HORNETS-HAWKS: Wednesday’s play-in game conjures memories of 1998 playoff series

By Richard Walker

When the Charlotte Hornets visit the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in an Eastern Conference play-in playoff game, it’ll mark the 131st meeting between the I-85 rivals.

Vlade Divac (12) and Anthony Mason (14) were key figures for the Charlotte Hornets the last time they met the Atlanta Hawks in a NBA postseason game. [NBA photo]
For Charlotte, it’ll tie the Hawks with the Miami Heat for most meetings in team history.

It’ll also conjure memories of the first postseason series between the two teams back in 1998.

That’s when fourth-seeded Charlotte “upset” a Hawks team that had swept the Hornets in the regular season in convincing fashion.

Atlanta had defeated the Hornets by margins of 18, 20, 12 and 17 points in games played at two facilities that have since been imploded – Charlotte’s old Coliseum off Tyvola Road and Atlanta’s old Georgia Dome.

In the posteason, Glen Rice, Anthony Mason, Vlade Divac and David Wesley spurred the Hornets to a 3-1 playoff series victory that Charlotte win three close games and bounce back from a 32-point blowout loss.

In the series opener, Rice had 34 points on 15 of 19 shooting and his driving layup with 7:21 to play gave Charlotte the lead for good in what became a 97-87 win. Wesley (12 points, 12 assists) and Divac (12 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks) were other key contributors.

Charlotte took a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series with a 92-85 victory in the second game that was powered by a fourth quarter burst from Mason (25 points). Rice (24 points, 13 rebounds), Wesley (18 points, 6 assists) and Divac (14 points, 10 rebounds) were other key contributors.

Atlanta returned home and routed Charlotte 96-64 in the third game of the series as the Hawks made 58.3 percent of their 3-pointers with Mookie Blaylock scoring 16 points. Mason had 12 points and Divac 11 to lead Charlotte.

In what proved to be the series finale, Mason was dominating with playoff career-highs of 29 and 14 rebounds including 13 fourth-quarter points of a 91-82 victory. Rice (26 points), Wesley (13 points, 10 assists) and Divac (11 points, 8 rebounds) were other big contributors.

The victory gave Charlotte only its second playoff series victory in the team’s then 10-year history and advanced the Hornets into a matchup against the “Last Dance” Chicago Bulls; Chicago won that series four games to one on its way to its sixth NBA title.

For the Hornets, the season marked a historical achievement the franchise has never been able to match; Charlotte’s 1997-98 team was the second straight 50-game winner – the Hornets went 51-31 – and third in in four seasons.

Charlotte’s most wins since then were 49 in the 1999-2000 season.

Additionally, the Hornets roster was reshaped following that 1997-98 season as free agents Vlade Divac (Sacramento Kings), Dell Curry (Milwaukee Bucks) and Matt Geiger (Philadelphia 76ers) signed elsewhere and Rice would never play another game for the team as an injury and trade request led him to the Los Angeles Lakers during the lockout-shortened 1999 season.

Dave Cowens, frustrated by all the transactions, resigned in frustration just 15 games into that 1999 season.