Indiana 112, Charlotte 102

CHARLOTTE, N.C., April 6 (AP) -- The Indiana Pacers knew they'd have to step up their game to keep their playoff hopes alive.

They did just that Friday night, shooting 64 percent from the field in the second half to beat the Charlotte Bobcats 112-102 and pull within one game of the idle Orlando Magic for the final playoff spot in the NBA's Eastern Division.

Danny Granger had a huge night, making 11 of his first 12 shots from the field to finish with a career-high 32 points. Granger finished 11-of-14 and made all three 3-point attempts and all seven free throws.

"We are on the ropes right now,'' Granger said. "We're trying to make the playoffs. We really needed this one. We have no room for error right now. So I'm glad I came out and helped my team win. I got into a rhythm and the coach was calling the plays for me.''

The Bobcats led 76-73 with 2:19 left in the third quarter, but went cold from the field while the Pacers got hot and put together a 14-1 run.

"You could tell there was a lot at stake for both teams,'' Charlotte's Raymond Felton said. "But there's not a lot you can do when a team starts hitting like they did. Everyone on their team was hitting.''

About the only Indiana player to struggle from the floor was star Jermaine O'Neal, who managed 14 points despite 4-of-18 shooting. But the Pacers got a big boost from Granger and veteran guard Darrell Armstrong, who scored 16 points off the bench, including 12 in the second half. Troy Murphy added 13 points.

Gerald Wallace scored 29 points and had nine rebounds, but the loss dealt a blow to the Bobcats' slim playoff hopes. Charlotte had climbed back into the picture by winning four of its last five games.

Walter Herrmann and Emeka Okafor had 15 points apiece for the Bobcats.

Adam Morrison had nine points - all 3-pointers - before leaving the game in the third quarter with a sprained tendon in his left knee. He's expected to play Sunday.

The Bobcats have never made the NBA playoffs and Wallace called the loss disappointing.

"We had a 10-point lead,'' Wallace said. "We were in a position to take control of the game. This was a game we should have won and could have won. We blew it.''

The Bobcats tried to rally from as many as 11 points down late in the fourth. However, Shawne Williams, Mike Dunleavy and Armstrong added critical offensive rebounds off missed shots to keep the Pacers comfortably ahead.

"It was a night we had to have a win,'' O'Neal said. "It gives us an added step toward getting to the playoffs. We won a game we're supposed to win. Now we have another game we're supposed to win (at home against the Boston Celtics on Saturday). It's a great confidence boost having won the game tonight.

"Right now every game is a real crucial game for us. Orlando isn't playing good basketball right now so they're letting us right back into it.''

Although many fans believe the Bobcats would have been better off tanking it over the last couple of weeks to secure a high lottery pick in the 2007 draft, the team has done just the opposite, catching fire in late March.

Before the game, Bobcats coach Bernie Bickerstaff said he wouldn't have it any other way and that he expects that winning breeds a winning attitude.

"The guys can tell by who you are sitting and who you are playing,'' Bickerstaff said. "I think it's hypocritical (to try not to win). I couldn't have any self-respect if I did that.''

Notes: The Bobcats played without Sean May and Derek Anderson. ... The Pacers were without guard Jamaal Tinsley (sore elbow) Friday night. Tinsley, who came in averaging 13 points and nearly seven assists per game, was replaced by Keith McLeod, who scored 11 points and had five assists. ... Okafor suffered through a rough start, drawing three fouls in only 5 minutes of first-half action. After his third foul, Okafor was slapped with a technical for saying something to the referee as he walked to the bench. ... Jeff Foster did not play because of back spasms. ... Normally Charlotte fans remain standing until the first field goal of the night, but many got tired of waiting after the Bobcats failed to score until nearly 4 minutes into the game.


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