Hornets' Mashburn Finding Groove At Just The Right Time
Posted February 28, 2002 2:14 a.m. EST
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When the buzzer sounded on one of the strongest quarters of his career, Jamal Mashburn walked off the court with just the slightest smile on his face.
Mashburn, never one to show much emotion, quickly put his game-face back on and went on to score a season-high 36 points in Charlotte's dismantling of the New Jersey Nets on Thursday night.
Yep, Charlotte's leading scorer is back and the Hornets are hoping he'll quickly put them on track for the playoffs.
"It was very important for his confidence, for his mental psyche, and for the team because he leads us in a lot of ways," Hornets coach Paul Silas said. "For him to come out and do what he did, I think it re-emphasizes it to himself that he can get it done. That's very important, and it's important for others to look to him."
Mashburn had his best game of the season, and by far his best game since his return after a 13-week stay on the injured list with an abdominal strain. In his first five games back, he shot just 37 percent from the field and was off badly on a 5-for-15 performance in Monday night's loss to Minnesota.
But he showed signs of his old self against the Nets, setting the tone for the 104-85 victory with 19 first-quarter points. He had 27 by halftime and had a good chance of besting his career-high of 50 points but Silas pulled him out of the game at the start of the fourth quarter.
"If he had stayed in the game, he definitely would have scored at least 40, probably more," New Jersey coach Byron Scott said. "He could do whatever he wanted out there."
He came out strong, shooting 8-for-10 in the first quarter. His second miss was a lob tossed up at the buzzer that had little chance of going in.
He finished the game 15-of-20 from the field and played just 32 minutes, then said he still has a way to go.
"I'm just trying to get back in the flow," Mashburn said. "I sat out a lot of time and it's tough coming back in the middle of the season and trying to help out as soon as possible and play at the pace of an NBA game. But I have confidence in my ability, so it's just a matter of getting in game shape and grinding my way through it."
The Hornets need that now. Their win over the Nets made them 28-29, stopped their three-game losing streak and pushed them from 10th to eighth in the Eastern Conference.
It also allowed them to avoid a four-game regular-season sweep to the Nets, who lead the East at 38-18 and would meet Charlotte in the first round of the playoffs if they started today.
But Charlotte could slip before the week is even over. The Hornets are in the most difficult stretch of the schedule, with games against Boston and Detroit this week before they head West for a four-game road trip against Seattle, Sacramento, Phoenix and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Mashburn is confident he can be a force.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself to make this a better team," he said. "The goal is obviously to make the playoffs and this is a good team, we know how to win games. I just need to do my part."