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Pacers strengthen hold on 8th as Danny Granger buries Bobcats

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel was bold in calling Wednesday night's game against Charlotte an "elimination game" for the reeling Bobcats in the race for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

"We think this would be a knockout blow if we get this win," Vogel added.

About three hours later, the Bobcats look effectively done in. The main culprits are the Pacers' Danny Granger, Stephen Jackson's hamstring injury and Boris Diaw's odd refusal to shoot.

Granger scored 33 points, Tyler Hansbrough added 24 and the Pacers enjoyed a night of good fortune in beating the slumping Bobcats 111-88 to open a three-game lead over their closest competition for eighth place in the East.

"We just wanted to put the nail in the coffin and move up in the race for the eighth spot," said Roy Hibbert, who had 13 points and 14 rebounds. "I think we did a good job."

With the Bucks also losing Wednesday to fall three games back, the Pacers are in good shape to reach the postseason with 10 games left. Indiana has also clinched the season series over Charlotte thanks to a four-game season sweep.

"It was a huge game for us," said Granger, who helped turn a 12-point, second-quarter deficit into a rout thanks to his 25-point burst in 16 minutes bridging the second and third quarters.

D.J. Augustin scored 17 points and Kwame Brown had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Bobcats, who have dropped four straight and 10 of 12.

Perhaps even more painful for Charlotte was watching top scorer Jackson held to 11 points as he labored through a strained hamstring. Jackson didn't have a field goal after the first quarter as he continues to have problems with an injury that's hampered him for a month.

"I couldn't move or be the player I know I can be out there," said Jackson, who missed Saturday's loss to San Antonio and tweaked it again at the morning shootaround.

But while Jackson said, "If they shut me down for the rest of the year it's going to be their decision," irritated coach Paul Silas already shut down another starter on his own.

Diaw, Charlotte's third-leading scorer, was yanked in the third quarter after passing up a shot in the lane for a behind-the-head pass that was intercepted and led to Kareem Rush's 3-pointer at the other end.

Diaw never returned, playing 24 minutes and not attempting a shot.

"I just told him in all my 40 years in the NBA, I've never seen anyone do that -- not take one shot in 24 minutes," Silas said. "That's something that I've never, ever seen."

The Pacers, not long ago mired in a six-game skid, have come on of late behind Hansbrough's continued emergence and Granger's scoring, the Pacers have won two straight and extended their winning streak over Charlotte to six after a slow start.

Granger scored 14 points in the second quarter when the Pacers took their first lead. He was up to 28 points by the time Indiana took control in the third. The Pacers outscored Charlotte 33-19 in the third quarter and 57-35 in the second half.

Indiana also survived a scare when point guard Darren Collison collided with Augustin in the second quarter and crumpled to the floor clutching his right knee. Collison returned after halftime and had seven points and four assists, leading an offense that shot 54 percent from the field.

"That was a big win for our ball club," said Vogel, who moved to 15-13 since replacing the fired Jim O'Brien. "Going into the final weeks of our season as one of the hottest teams in the league. We're 5-2 in the last seven games."

Charlotte's going in the other direction after its roster was gutted by the trade that sent former All-Star Gerald Wallace to Portland last month. To make things more bleak, the Bobcats also lost forward Tyrus Thomas to bruised ribs in the decisive third quarter.

"I'm not going to let them lay down and quit," Silas said. "That's not going to happen."

Game notes
Bobcats assistant Charles Oakley missed the game as he awaits test results for a painful back injury that forced him to be carried from the bench Saturday in San Antonio. "Right now it's hard for him to walk," Silas said. "He's struggling." ... Pacers and CBS college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg has the Charlotte-Newark, N.J. flight path down. He was in Charlotte last weekend for the NCAA tournament, flew to Newark on Monday for the Pacers' game, was back in Charlotte Wednesday and returns to Newark on Friday for the NCAA East regional.


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