Bobcats Fall to Wizards in NBA Debut

Friday, November 5th 2004, 8:51 am
By: News On 6

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ For months, the Charlotte Bobcats were nothing more than a concept with a bright orange logo. They became a reality Thursday night in their NBA debut, hanging tough in a 103-96 loss to Washington that impressed Wizards star Antawn Jamison.

``They played really hard and have a lot of key components _ it was kind of hard to call them an expansion team,'' said Jamison, who led the Wizards with 24 points. ``They've got some talented guys ... they will get a lot of upsets.''

Just not in their opener, which marked the NBA's return to Charlotte after a two-year absence.

Replacing the Hornets after they moved to New Orleans in 2002, the Bobcats are expected to struggle mightily this season. Still, they were in this one late as they tried to become the third consecutive expansion team to win its NBA debut, following Vancouver and Toronto (1995).

``We showed our stuff. We showed we're going to fight and play hard and try to win every night,'' said Emeka Okafor, the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, who led Charlotte with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

In other NBA games Thursday night, it was Miami 92, Cleveland 86; and Denver 94, Minnesota 92 in overtime.

There was a festive mood in the Charlotte Coliseum at the start, with rapper Nelly courtside next to Bobcats owner Bob Johnson.

But unlike the Hornets' opener in 1998, when the sellout crowd gave them a standing ovation after a 40-point loss, the fans filed out long before the end. Even NBA commissioner David Stern left before the final buzzer.

One lone fan sitting close to the Bobcats bench showed his approval, screaming ``OK, Bobcats! You rule!'' in the waning moments.

On this night they did, partly because they actually had a chance to win the game.

Still, there was little solace taken from that.

``We're not into the moral thing,'' coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. ``We weren't good enough. It wasn't because we lacked or didn't want it. Some of them may have wanted it too bad. I don't know whether any of them had stage fright.''

Actually, it was just poor execution in the final quarter, when youth and inexperience were obvious.

The game was tied at 85 when turnovers and poor shot selection allowed the Wizards to go on a game-deciding 9-0 run.

Melvin Ely lost the ball while dribbling, and Eddie House foolishly fouled Juan Dixon as he made a Washington layup. It was a three-point swing after Dixon's free throw, and the Bobcats appeared to unravel after that.

House missed a 3-pointer, and Steve Smith missed consecutive shots as the Wizards built a 94-85 lead with 4:14 to play.

Charlotte still had chances, sending Tamar Slay to the line trailing 96-90, but Slay missed both free throws and the Bobcats couldn't make a basket after Okafor battled for the rebound.

``They made shots and we didn't,'' House said. ``That will come. I think we did all right for a group that hasn't been together very long.''

Gilbert Arenas added 19 points for the Wizards, Jarvis Hayes had 17, Dixon 15 and Larry Hughes scored 14.

Primoz Brezec and Steve Smith scored 15 each for Charlotte, Gerald Wallace had 11 and Jason Kapono and Ely had 10 apiece.

Heat 92, Cavaliers 86

Shaquille O'Neal had 17 points and nine rebounds in his home debut for his new team and Dwyane Wade scored 28 points as Miami beat Cleveland before 20,235 Shaq-crazed fans _ the largest crowd to see a Heat home game.

Coming off Wednesday's 23-point win at New Jersey, the Heat never trailed and improved to 2-0 for the fourth time in their 17-year history.

Drew Gooden scored 24 points and LeBron James had 21 points and eight rebounds for Cleveland (0-2).

Showing no ill effects of the strained left hamstring that bothered him throughout training camp, O'Neal played 32 minutes and shot 7-of-17 from the floor.

Nuggets 94, Timberwolves 92, OT

Earl Boykins hit a jumper with 6.8 seconds left in overtime, and Carmelo Anthony had 19 points and 14 rebounds to help Denver win its home opener.

The Nuggets had trouble shooting in their first game without Voshon Lenard, who tore his Achilles' tendon in Tuesday night's season opener against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Nuggets shot just 38 percent and missed six straight attempts in overtime before Boykins' winner from the wing.

Kenyon Martin had 18 points and 13 rebounds in his home debut, and Andre Miller added 19 points for Denver.

Kevin Garnett had 25 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and five blocked shots, but he couldn't come through on Minnesota's final shot. Last year's NBA MVP was short on a turnaround jumper after tying the game at 88 on a jump hook with 10.5 seconds left in regulation.