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Hornets' Mashburn Finding Groove At Just The Right Time

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When the buzzer sounded on one of thestrongest quarters of his career, Jamal Mashburn walked off thecourt with just the slightest smile on his face.

Mashburn, never one to show much emotion, quickly put hisgame-face back on and went on to score a season-high 36 points inCharlotte's dismantling of the New Jersey Nets on Thursday night.

Yep, Charlotte's leading scorer is back and the Hornets arehoping he'll quickly put them on track for the playoffs.

"It was very important for his confidence, for his mentalpsyche, 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 hedid, I think it re-emphasizes it to himself that he can get itdone. That's very important, and it's important for others to lookto him."

Mashburn had his best game of the season, and by far his bestgame since his return after a 13-week stay on the injured list withan abdominal strain. In his first five games back, he shot just 37percent from the field and was off badly on a 5-for-15 performancein Monday night's loss to Minnesota.

But he showed signs of his old self against the Nets, settingthe tone for the 104-85 victory with 19 first-quarter points. Hehad 27 by halftime and had a good chance of besting his career-highof 50 points but Silas pulled him out of the game at the start ofthe fourth quarter.

"If he had stayed in the game, he definitely would have scoredat 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. Hissecond miss was a lob tossed up at the buzzer that had littlechance of going in.

He finished the game 15-of-20 from the field and played just 32minutes, then said he still has a way to go.

"I'm just trying to get back in the flow," Mashburn said. "Isat out a lot of time and it's tough coming back in the middle ofthe season and trying to help out as soon as possible and play atthe pace of an NBA game. But I have confidence in my ability, soit's just a matter of getting in game shape and grinding my waythrough it."

The Hornets need that now. Their win over the Nets made them28-29, stopped their three-game losing streak and pushed them from10th to eighth in the Eastern Conference.

It also allowed them to avoid a four-game regular-season sweepto the Nets, who lead the East at 38-18 and would meet Charlotte inthe first round of the playoffs if they started today.

But Charlotte could slip before the week is even over. TheHornets are in the most difficult stretch of the schedule, withgames against Boston and Detroit this week before they head Westfor a four-game road trip against Seattle, Sacramento, Phoenix andthe Los Angeles Lakers.

Mashburn is confident he can be a force.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself to make this a betterteam," he said. "The goal is obviously to make the playoffs andthis is a good team, we know how to win games. I just need to do mypart."

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