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Mashburn-led Hornets have Heat pushed to brink
Let Freedom Sting
By Rob Reheuser

On the surface, the story of Jamal Mashburn's exodus from Miami and resurrection in Charlotte reads like a soap opera: Player gets traded. Player leaves town thinking he's been labeled the scapegoat. Player finds new home and comes back to haunt old team.

Mashburn torches the Heat in Games 1 and 2:
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Juicy? Yes. Accurate? Not exactly. For as much as the tabloids would like this opening round series between Miami and Charlotte to been seen as a tale of redemption and revenge, it's really more of an old fashioned coming of age story, starring a modest figure who's fulfilling the promise bestowed upon him early in his career. The fact that Mashburn has played a huge part in the Hornets storming out to a 2-0 lead over Miami certainly adds to the drama. And if Charlotte were to defeat Miami in Friday's Game 3 (8 p.m. ET, TNT), Mashburn would be entitled to feel a certain degree of satisfaction.

But for Mashburn, much of the satisfaction has already come in finding a home in Charlotte and a team that embraces his talents. When the Hornets made the trade, which sent Eddie Jones and Anthony Mason to Miami and P.J. Brown and Mashburn to Charlotte, they were banking on the hope that Mashburn could become a leader and a go-to guy. They were right.

"As soon as I got to Charlotte, I knew this was a place I could finish my career," said the former first-round pick from the University of Kentucky. Not long after he arrived, the Hornets awarded him with a contract extension. He responded by turning in his best all-around season as a pro.

During the regular season, he led Charlotte in scoring (20.1 ppg) and also averaged career-highs in rebounds (7.6 rpg) and assists (5.4 apg). In two lopsided victories against the Heat in the playoffs, Mashburn has averaged 25.0 points. Seeing Miami on the opposite end of the floor has added incentive, but the season has been about more than revenge.

"It was a thing that he had to reconcile with himself," Charlotte coach Paul Silas said. "Could he be the man and be the go-to guy and come through? And he has. He's done everything I've expected of him and more. He's won a lot of games for us this year. He's rebounded a lot better than I ever thought he would or could. He's a better passer than I ever thought he was."

A season ago, Mashburn was on the dejected end of Miami's heartbreaking 83-82 Game 7 loss to the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals; this year, Mashburn is facing his old team up 2-0 with the next two games in Charlotte. But, he knows personally never to discount the Heat and Miami coach Pat Riley.

"We've got to think about what we have to do next, make some adjustments and continue to push the pace," Mashburn said. "It's not over. Anybody who knows Pat Riley knows that it is not over. He's going to fire his troops up and Coach [Paul] Silas is going to have us ready."

If the Hornets advance tonight, Mashburn may have a fleeting thought about what might have been for him in Miami or smile to himself for getting the better of his old team, but the moment will have to be short because it's on to the next series. The playoffs continue.

Rob Reheuser is a member of the NBA Editorial Staff.

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