Sam Cassell is hot and intent on leading the New Jersey Nets to the playoffs for the first time in four years.
Down the hall, Anthony Mason was just as hot after the Charlotte Hornets got blitzed by Cassell in a 125-115 loss to the Nets on Monday night. Coach Dave Cowens was his target.The Cassell story first. The point guard carried the Nets and their playoff hopes for the second straight game with a career-high 35 points, 11 assists and no turnovers in handing the Hornets their fourth straight road loss.
"I make this team go," said Cassell, who was 11-of-20 from the field and 13-of-14 from the free throw line. "If I'm struggling we're going to struggle, so I make this team go. I don't like to say it, but it's the truth."
The victory gave the Nets (39-36) consecutive wins for the first time since Feb. 24-26 and it allowed them to open a one-game lead over idle Washington (38-37) for the eighth and final playoff berth in the East. Orlando (38-38) is 11/2 games back despite beating Philadelphia 113-92.
Cassell, who won two championships with Houston, was just as good on Saturday, scoring 30 points to lead New Jersey to a come-from-behind win over the New York Knicks.
"Right now Sam is leading the way for us," said reserve forward Brian Evans, who scored 15 points, one shy of his career high. "He's the guy who has been deep into the playoffs and won a couple of rings. Everyone is riding his coattails."
Not only is Cassell scoring, but he is setting up his teammates. The Nets had five players in double figures.
Besides Cassell and Evans, Kerry Kittles had 23 points, Keith Van Horn 21 and Chris Gatling had 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Charlotte used a 33-17 spurt to draw within four points late in the third quarter, and that's where Mason gets hot. The starting unit staged the comeback but Cowens took most of them out of the game late in the third after the deficit was cut to four.
The Nets came back with a 17-3 run and the Hornets were done.
" My whole thing is if you make a run like that, you keep that team on the floor until their tongues hang out, period," Mason said. "I don't care what you say or who's pouting. If a team is making a run especially after you dug a hole like that you have to stay with it or the players that are working. Everything was going our way and it all changed."
MAGIC 113, 76ERS 92: Nick Anderson scored 34 points as Orlando kept pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
"I know what the standings are. There is nothing that I can do about what they do," Orlando coach Chuck Daly said of the Nets. "This win helps for one night, but tomorrow is another day. We go back to the war zone on Wednesday."
Allen Iverson led Philadelphia with 23 points.
SUNS 102, SUPERSONICS 92: At Seattle, Danny Manning scored 23 points and Rex Chapman hit two key shots down the stretch as Phoenix moved within 11/2 games of San Antonio for fourth place in the Western Conference (see story on this page).
Chapman's 3-pointer gave the Suns a 96-86 lead with 1:55 left. After the Sonics closed to 96-90, Chapman nailed a 17-footer to make it 98-90 lead with 54 seconds left.
BLAZERS 79, SPURS 75: Rasheed Wallace scored 28 points, including two key free throws down the stretch, as Portland moved three games ahead of Minnesota for sixth place in the West.
Wallace's free throws put the Blazers ahead 78-75 with 1:02 left. After Jaren Jackson and Vinny Del Negro missed 3-pointers, Damon Stoudamire hit one free throw with 5.5 seconds left to clinch the win.
Tim Duncan led San Antonio with 24 points and 15 rebounds, while Robinson had 23 points and 18 rebounds.