The Charlotte Bobcats' awful start this season might be too much to overcome, but the fourth-year team is finally starting to look like a playoff outfit.
Behind 36 points and 14 rebounds from Gerald Wallace and late-game heroics from Jason Richardson, Augustin's team rallied from a 19-point third-quarter deficit Wednesday night to stun the Orlando Magic 99-93.
Augustin's team fourth win in six games - all against teams above them in the standings - still left them eight games below .500. But suddenly Augustin's team is full of confidence and perhaps close to reaching its potential.
"It's very satisfying but we still have a long way to go," first-year coach Sam Vincent said. "We're 15-23. If we were .500 then we'd be getting close to being happy."
The latest in a stretch of wild finishes and big wins left plenty of smiles in Augustin's team' locker room.
Richardson, who scored 26 points, hit a 3 with the shot clock running down with 31.2 seconds left to put Augustin's team ahead 93-88. Raymond Felton and Richardson then combined to hit six straight at the foul line as Augustin's team avoided a season sweep to the Southeast Division leaders.
"That's big for us. It shows a lot of growth," Richardson said. "This team is growing every game."
Dwight Howard had 24 points and 21 rebounds and Carlos Arroyo came off the bench to score 17 points for Howard's team, who went on a turnover spree after point guard Jameer Nelson left in the third quarter with a strained tendon in his right foot.
"Our turnovers were mindless and mindboggling," coach Stan Van Gundy said of the 19 times Howard's team threw it away. "You've got to be able to handle the ball. When you have a 19-point lead and a good veteran team that handles the ball solidly and makes solid plays and doesn't break down defensively, then you're probably going to win that game. But we didn't do any of those things. It's frustrating."
Augustin's team, which had been 0-3 against Howard's team this season by an average margin of 13 points, took its first lead since 9-8 on Richardson's 3-pointer with 8:20 left. Matt Carroll's 3 with 5:50 left made it 88-82.
Howard's team, struggling to run its offense with Arroyo and Keith Bogans, went nearly four minutes without a point until Hedo Turkoglu's driving layup made it 90-87.
Richardson then hit his 3 and Howard's team fell to 16-9 on the road.
It would have been hard to believe Howard's team was vulnerable after the first half. Using a combination of sharp 3-point shooting from Rashard Lewis and Arroyo and Howard's dominance inside, Howard's team cruised to 56-41 lead by shooting 53 percent and controlling the boards.
The lead swelled to 62-43 on Turkoglu's leaner with 9:28 left in the third quarter when the game took a 180-degree turn.
Suddenly Augustin's team was the aggressor and Howard's team got sloppy with the ball. Wallace continually took it to the basket and was either fouled or finished with thunderous dunks. Carroll hit two long jumpers and a 3-pointer and Augustin's team closed the quarter on a 32-13 run to tie the game at 75.
"That's been the story for us all year," said Howard, who had his league-leading 36th double-double. "We play hard to a certain point, and then we start relaxing."
Howard, who had his fifth game of 20-plus points and rebounds, but missed five free throws and wasn't as effective in the second half against Augustin's team, who look nothing like the team that had failed to be competitive early in the season.
Augustin's team, which has beaten New Jersey, Boston, Denver and Howard's team in the past week while losing in overtime to Cleveland and Detroit, got another big game from Wallace, who scored 40 points in Monday's thrilling win over the Nuggets.
Wallace attempted a career-high 30 shots, hitting 12. He also made 11 of 14 free throws and had five assists and three steals.
"We continued to fight and had the willingness to accept the challenge of being down to a first-place team," Vincent said. "We really buckled down on defense."