Then the star turned out to be somebody the fans, including Tar Heels coach Roy Williams, couldn't have expected: the old center who barely played last season.
With Tyson Chandler sidelined for a second straight game with back spasms, the 32-year-old Mohammed got the start. Seven months after saying he wanted to be elsewhere if he was going to ride the bench again, Mohammed hit eight of 10 shots, grabbed five rebounds, blocked two shots and outplayed Pacers big man Roy Hibbert.
Charlotte's highest offensive output of the season and its first win since Nov. 6 came with an unlikely man in the middle. Mohammed appeared in only 39 games last season, but he's contributing now.
"This is my 12th year. I'm not going to be an All-Star. I'm not going to get any personal accolades," Mohammed said. "I kind of see this is toward the end of my career, so winning is pretty much the only thing that's going to satisfy me. All I have left is trying to be part of a winner."
Wins have been hard to come by in coach Larry Brown's second season thanks to a dysfunctional offense. Brown hopes Jackson's addition will help, and he scored 10 points in his home debut as the Bobcats sent the Pacers to their third straight loss following a five-game winning streak.
"It feels good to finally be here," said Jackson, who shot 5 for 13. "To come in and kind of get a feel for this arena and the fans. The good thing about it was my first game was a win."
"Their bigs probably shot 90 percent, 80 percent from the field," Granger said. "We couldn't stop their pick-and-roll, even though we knew it was coming."
It made for a sour homecoming for Hansbrough, who led the Tar Heels to the national championship in the spring while becoming North Carolina's all-time leading scorer.
The rookie grabbed spare tickets from teammates for friends and family. Four of the best courtside seats in the house were filled by his old coach, Williams, and his family.
Greeted by cheers and a smatter of boos from the Duke fans, Hansbrough showed he he's still working himself into the rotation following a preseason shin injury. He didn't get his first field goal until the fourth quarter, finishing with eight points, six rebounds and five fouls in 21 minutes.
"College atmosphere vs. NBA is a little different," Hansbrough said. "But it's always good to come back to Carolina and see everybody."
Looking disjointed as they work injured players back into the lineup, the Pacers shot 41 percent from the field, including 5 of 22 from 3-point range.
Jeff Foster didn't score and picked up three fouls in nine minutes in his first game after missing more than three weeks with a sprained right ankle. Troy Murphy had seven points and eight rebounds in his second game back from a back injury.
"We didn't play the way we've been playing to win games," Jones said.
Jackson, cheered as he was introduced in his first game since being acquired from Golden State last week, hit a jumper early in the second quarter to give Charlotte a 38-22 lead.
When the Pacers made a run in the third, Mohammed went to work with a couple of buckets. Brown added a jumper, and Diaw a 3-pointer as Charlotte built an 81-60 lead entering the fourth quarter.
"I just want to be part of winning," Mohammed said. "Sitting on the sidelines watching us last year win some, watching us lose some, it was so hard on me that I can't find satisfaction in just what I've been doing so far."
Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said F Mike Dunleavy has been cleared to return from his troublesome right knee, but it's uncertain if he'll make his season debut this week. "He has not practiced enough fullcourt that we're comfortable just throwing him out there," O'Brien said. "When he feels like he's in NBA shape, then he'll be back." ... Chandler appeared to be in significant pain as he tested his back before the game.