Miami (35-14) at Charlotte (21-27)

By MATT BECKER, STATS Senior Writer Friday, Feb 4, 2011 Tipoff: 7:00 pm EST Fri Feb 4, 2011

The Charlotte Bobcats are brimming with confidence after returning home from a winning road trip.

Their confidence level will be significantly higher if they can navigate their way through this next stretch.

The Bobcats open a daunting portion of the schedule with their next three games against some of the top title favorites beginning Friday night when they host LeBron James(notes) and the Miami Heat.

Charlotte (21-27) is in eighth place in the Eastern Conference and took a big step toward solidifying itself as a playoff contender by completing a 4-2 road trip. The Bobcats, who had only two wins in their previous 13 road games, averaged 106.5 points in the victories.

The trip ended with Stephen Jackson(notes) scoring a season-high 39 in Wednesday’s 97-87 win in Detroit.

“It’s good to come back 4-2 knowing the tough games we have ahead of us,” said Jackson, averaging 25.3 points in the last six games - 6.5 better than his season average. “Hopefully we can carry it over.”

Building on the success of the trip, however, won’t be easy.

After playing Southeast Division-leading Miami (35-14), Charlotte hosts Dallas on Saturday and East-best Boston on Monday. The Bobcats get to play these games in Charlotte, but that doesn’t offer much of an advantage. They’re tied for the league’s sixth-worst home record at 12-11, while these three heavyweights own three of the league’s top four road records.

The Bobcats are also already 0-5 against these teams, and have been outscored by an average of 11.0 points in their two games against the Heat.

“The seventh, eighth and ninth spot is close, and we know that if we can get a couple of these games it will give us a little more cushion,” Jackson said. “Any guy that loves to play and loves to compete will be happy that we have Miami, the Mavericks and Boston back-to-back-to-back. It’s exciting, and I just hope we’ll be ready to play.”

James was sure ready to play Thursday against Orlando.

The seven-time All-Star had a season-high 51 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, including a 23-point first quarter, to lead Miami to a 104-100 victory over the Magic, its fourth straight win.

“We just wanted to come in here and play to our abilities and make a statement,” James said.

Although the Heat defeated their division rival for the second time in three games this season, they weren’t happy about squandering nearly all of a 16-point, fourth-quarter lead.

“We came in (the locker room) and you could tell by the look on the guys’ faces that we weren’t satisfied with the way we finished the game out,” James said. “That’s always a good sign.”

James has been on a tear since sitting out two games with a sprained left ankle, averaging 33.3 points in his last six - 6.7 better than his season average.

He has enjoyed similar success against the Bobcats this season, combining for 70 points in two games.

Dwyane Wade(notes) missed most of Thursday’s third quarter with a lower back bruise he got from taking a hard foul from Dwight Howard(notes). He returned to start the fourth quarter and finished with 14 after scoring at least 32 in each of his previous three games. The seven-time All-Star had 31 points in the Heat’s 96-82 win at Charlotte on Jan. 3.

Jackson had 22 points in that game for the Bobcats, and scored 30 in the first meeting, a 95-87 loss in Miami on Nov. 19.

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Friday, Feb 4