By MIKE CRANSTON
The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 23, 2011; 11:29 PM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Danny Granger scored 33 points and the Indiana Pacers created breathing room from one of their closest competitors for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot with a 111-88 victory over the slumping Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday night.
Tyler Hansbrough added 24 points and Roy Hibbert had 13 points and 14 rebounds for the Pacers, who moved three games ahead of Charlotte for eighth place by completing a four-game season sweep.
The Pacers turned a 12-point, second-quarter deficit into a rout behind the hot-shooting Granger, who scored 25 points in a 16-minute stretch bridging the second and third periods.
D.J. Augustin scored 17 points and Kwame Brown had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Bobcats, who got 11 points from top scorer Stephen Jackson as he labored through a hamstring injury.
Already holding the tiebreaker over Charlotte, Indiana interim coach Frank Vogel wasn't shy before the game in comparing the matchup to an "elimination game if you were up in the playoffs 3-1 or 3-2."
"We think this would be a knockout blow if we get this win," Vogel added.
They might just have done that with their sixth straight victory over the Bobcats.
Charlotte's roster was gutted by the trade that sent former All-Star Gerald Wallace to Portland last month, and couldn't keep pace with Indiana in its fourth straight loss and 10th in 12 games.
The Pacers were mired in a six-game losing streak. But behind Hansbrough's continued emergence and Granger's scoring, the Pacers have won two straight and five of seven.
Indiana, which entered the night also two games ahead of Milwaukee, took advantage of Charlotte's limited scoring options with Jackson hobbled.
Jackson, who has been slowed by the injury for the past month, sat out Saturday's loss to San Antonio and aggravated the left leg again in Wednesday morning's shootaround.
But Jackson returned to the arena in the afternoon and declared himself ready to go. It just wasn't pretty watching him try to run.
Despite his limited mobility, Jackson started 4 of 5 from the field as the Bobcats built a 38-26 lead early in the second quarter. Jackson often retreated to an exercise bike when he came out to stay loose, but Charlotte struggled to score without him.
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.
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.
Since trading Wallace, the Bobcats have needed strong games from promoted starter Gerald Henderson and Boris Diaw. Neither did nearly enough.
Henderson never got in a rhythm, missing 10 of 14 shots and committing a flagrant foul on Granger in the decisive third quarter. Diaw kept passing up easier shots for more difficult ones for teammates.
Coach Paul Silas immediately yanked Diaw in the third - and never put him back in - after instead of attempting a shot in the lane he threw an over-the-head pass that was intercepted and led to Brandon Rush's 3-pointer.
Indiana's 33-19 third quarter also included a nasty fall by Charlotte's Tyrus Thomas, who went to the locker room with bruised ribs and didn't return.
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, back in Charlotte Wednesday and returns to Newark on Friday for the NCAA East regional.