Hornets beat Magic 117-103, will face Miami in 1st round
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) If the Charlotte Hornets want to end a long playoff drought, they will have to beat their old nemesis, the Miami Heat, to advance.
The Hornets closed out their best regular season in 16 years with a 117-103 win over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night behind Al Jefferson's 26 points to finish as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. They will face the Heat, the No. 3 seed, which swept the Hornets in the first round two years ago.
''A lot of guys on that team it was a first time in the playoffs - or it was a first time in the playoff playing a big role,'' Jefferson said. ''It was a good experience for us. We were playing against the team that went to the finals and had been to the finals three years prior. ... Now we're back and it's a totally different team in Miami and totally different team in us. We're looking forward to it.''
Although the Heat won't have LeBron James this time around, Hornets coach Steve Clifford said it nevertheless will be a challenge.
''They have star power,'' Clifford said. ''They have guys that can take their game to the next level. They have a great coach. Those guys have been through it.''
The two teams split four games during the regular season, each winning a game on the other's court.
The Hornets haven't won a playoff series - or even a playoff game - since the 2001-02 season.
Charlotte won despite Clifford playing the end of his bench for almost the entire fourth quarter.
It appeared at times the Hornets might be trying to lose to set up an advantageous scenario for a playoff opponent after the Magic cut the lead to two. But the Hornets closed out the game strong to finish the season 30-11 at home.
The Hornets jumped out to a commanding 66-50 halftime lead behind Jefferson, who had 15 points at the break on 7-of-8 shooting. When Jefferson wasn't scoring at will against Nikola Vucevic in the low post, he was making contributions in other areas, getting three rebounds and two assists.
Jefferson's inside presence also helped open up Charlotte's outside game, as the Hornets were 9 of 22 from 3-point range in the first half.
Charlotte led by as many as 22 in the second half, but the lead slipped away after Clifford went deep into his bench.
Kemba Walker had only two points in 18 minutes, but he dished out eight assists - his 21st game with seven or more handouts.
Troy Daniels added 13 points and Spencer Hawes and Jeremy Lamb had 12 each for Charlotte, which finished the regular season 48-34 - the fifth-most wins in franchise history.
Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon each had 22 points for the Magic, who finished the season 35-47.
''We have had three or four different seasons in the same season where we have played really well for a set of games and then some where we have not played well,'' Magic coach Scott Skiles said. ''We haven't been too inconsistent. What I will do and what we encourage the guys to do is to get some rest and reflect. Hopefully each coach and each player will do the same.''
Magic: Fournier finished with 61 double-digit games this season. ... The Magic outscored the Hornets 52-42 in the paint.
Hornets: Nicolas Batum did not play because of a sore left ankle. Clifford said he is hoping the Hornets play on Sunday rather than Saturday to give Batum an extra day to recover from an ankle he described as ''a little weak.''
SEED DOESN'T MATTER
Jefferson, who has never made it out of the first round of the playoffs in his previous 11 NBA seasons, said the team's seed doesn't matter. He's just glad the Hornets are in.
''This time last year we were planning our vacation, now we're in,'' Jefferson said. ''Once you get in, you just go on from there. Anybody can be beat. The way we're playing, we're playing hard.''
Magic: Season is over.
Hornets: Face the Miami Heat in the NBA playoffs.