ORLANDO, Fla. — Matt Barnes sent the playful, trash-talking text messages and voice mails for a week until finally getting a call back from Stephen Jackson. The two shared a laugh, caught up and made plans to hang out in Orlando until this evening.
Then their friendship will be put on hold.
"We know once that game starts," Jackson said, "we're going to play like we don't know each other."
The two best friends and former teammates give the first-round playoff matchup between Orlando and Charlotte a friendly-fiery subplot.
Barnes, the Magic's feisty forward, makes a living using his pushy play to irritate opponents. Jackson, the Bobcats' leading scorer and often emotional swingman, also loves to be the bully.
So with the best-of-seven series pitting them against each other, there's sure to be a clash with two of the NBA's most physical forwards and stingiest defensive teams.
"I'm sure it's going to get heated out there between us," Barnes said. "We're both competitors, pretty much the same mentality, same kind of people. We both go out there and play as hard as we possibly can, and we have our team's back. If that's a bad thing, I don't want to be good."
There's also a parallel between their friendship and this series.
The two were playing for Golden State in 2007 when the eighth-seeded Warriors upset the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks. With the seventh-seeded Bobcats in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history against the defending Eastern Conference champions, Jackson is looking to help Charlotte channel those memories.
Barnes wants to avoid them.
"The confidence level and the feeling that we're being overlooked is there," Jackson said. "So there are lot of things similar to that."
That might be where the similarities end.
Orlando has won 11 of its last 13 games against Charlotte, using Dwight Howard in the paint to punish the undersized Bobcats. The All-Star center has been a matchup nightmare for Charlotte, the main reason the Magic kept opposing shooters to an NBA-low 43.8 percent and freed up its offense to set a single-season record with 841 3-pointers made.
"Everybody knows what Orlando does," Bobcats coach Larry Brown said. "They just do it so well."
Realistic expectations couldn't be more different.
The Bobcats, under new majority owner Michael Jordan, had just their first winning season in six years as a franchise. The Magic, which lost to the Lakers in last year's NBA finals, retooled its roster - most notably acquiring Vince Carter - and will only be satisfied with a championship celebration.
"I wasn't happy last year," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. "I wasn't at the end. I wasn't happy because we were there and had an opportunity and didn't play well. I think the way we're all made up is anything short of winning it and we're not going to be happy."
The Magic is still keeping things modest.
Asked how much hungrier the team is this postseason, the always jovial and joking Howard couldn't resist.
"I'm very hungry. You guys should see the plate I have in there waiting on me to demolish now," he said, laughing. "I have a full plate of ribs, chicken. Then I have another plate of vegetables. We're all hungry. Stan, he's hungry. He's been hungry all season."
So were the Bobcats.
They've made great strides since acquiring Jackson from the Warriors in November. He's given his new team some swagger, and has Charlotte allowing a league-low 93.8 points per game.
"He's changed the whole mentality of that team," Barnes said.
So imagine Barnes' dilemma now that he's charged with slowing down Jackson.
Their bond goes beyond just being former teammates. Their families always have been close. Their mothers were friends, and Jackson and his family helped Barnes cope with his mother's death from cancer two years ago.
Barnes also was at Jackson's wedding last summer. The Charlotte swingman made plans to see Barnes' 1-year-old twins in Orlando this weekend in what figured to be a friendly get together.