In front of a boisterous, hostile crowd and facing a team in desperation mode, the Orlando Magic showcased their depth, grit and poise when it mattered most. Imagine how good they could be if their superstar center played more than half the game.
No Dwight Howard, no problem for the Magic, who got 32 points from Jameer Nelson to overcome another frustrating, foul-filled game by their big man in a 90-86 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats Saturday.
Spoiling Charlotte's return to the playoff stage after an eight-year absence, the Magic took a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round series despite being without Howard for the final 3:32 after he fouled out.
"You've got to admire them with Dwight getting foul trouble and fouling out how they still didn't fold," Bobcats coach Larry Brown said. "They were disciplined and executed. They got a well-deserved win."
For the third straight game, Howard played about half the game, finishing with 13 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks. "I think this is a big test for me, learning how to keep my composure in tough situations," said Howard, who has played in only 83 of 144 minutes in the series because of chronic foul trouble. "Things may not go my way, but we're playing for something bigger."
After Howard was sidelined for good, Nelson had a key bucket and backup center Marcin Gortat hit two free throws with 12 seconds left to put it away.
The defending Eastern Conference champs can clinch a spot in the second round with a win in Game 4 tomorrow.
Trail Blazers 96, Suns 87
Brandon Roy made a surprising return from knee surgery and scored 10 points, including a key three-pointer in the fourth quarter, and the host Portland Trail Blazers evened their playoff series with the Phoenix Suns at two games apiece. LaMarcus Aldridge had 31 points and 11 rebounds for the Blazers, who unexpectedly activated Roy shortly before the game, eight days after he had arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. Roy didn't start and played a relatively quiet 26 minutes, but hit a three-pointer with 4:55 left that gave Portland a 85-79 lead and swung the momentum of a close game. Amare Stoudemire led the Suns with 26 points. - AP