LOS ANGELES -- The Charlotte Bobcats lost an inordinate amount of close games early in the season. They just hope it won't come back to haunt them, now that they're within striking distance of the franchise's first playoff berth.
Emeka Okafor had 28 points and nine rebounds, Raja Bell scored nine of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, and Charlotte beat the Los Angeles Clippers 100-95 on Saturday night for their third straight victory.
The Bobcats are 5-16 in games decided by five points or fewer, including five losses in a nine-game stretch during December. Had they won half of those 16 games they lost, they would be six games over .500 instead of 10 games under.
"There's no need looking back and thinking about games we could have won," coach Larry Brown said. "Our goal is just to get better each game, and I think we're doing that. With the team we had at training camp and early in the season, we didn't think could win 10 games. But the team we have now, we have a chance to win every night we step out on the court."
The Bobcats have won three straight for just the second time this season and the first time since Jan. 7, when they beat Portland after road wins against Washington and Detroit.
They began this five-game trip with losses to Houston and Phoenix, then rebounded with wins over Sacramento and Golden State before vanquishing the Clippers with the help of a strong third quarter in which they outscored them 34-20.
Brown gives much of the credit for the team's resurgence to Michael Jordan, the team's managing member of basketball operations, and general manager Rod Higgins for rebuilding the roster on the fly. Only five of their current players were with the team last season, and five others came over in trades during the past 11½ weeks.
The Bobcats, who entered the NBA in 2004-05, beat the Clippers for the fourth straight time after losing the first six meetings. Okafor made 11-for-17 shots, while Diaw added 15 points.
Zach Randolph had 33 points and nine rebounds for Los Angeles, coming off a 98-86 loss at Sacramento that followed Wednesday's stunning 93-91 upset of the NBA champion Boston Celtics.
The Bobcats were leading 92-89 when Okafor was fouled by Marcus Camby on a driving layup and crashed to the floor holding his right ankle. He limped to the bench under his own power, then returned following a timeout to complete the three-point play with 3:16 remaining.
"I told him if he comes out, he can't shoot the free throw. So he kind of ran up there and knocked it in," Brown said. "That was a big hoop. Anytime you play them, you know Marcus is around. So you've really got to finish with some authority, and I thought Emeka did that."
The Clippers got within 95-93 after Randolph converted his offensive rebound of Baron Davis' missed 3-pointer into a layup with 2:03 to play, but Bell answered with a 3 just 27 seconds later.
Randolph's 16-footer cut it to 98-95 before Okafor missed a hook shot at the other end. But Al Thornton missed a 3-point attempt that would have tied it with 4 seconds on the clock, Okafor got the rebound and cinched it with two free throws.
Diaw, along with Orlando's Jameer Nelson the only players shooting at least 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range, was 7-for-15 against the Clippers. His 3 in the first quarter gave him 51 for the season, equaling the combined total in his previous five NBA campaigns.
"We had a tough matchup with Diaw at the four spot, because of his mobility and ability to make plays," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "We shot over 50 percent for the game, but missed a lot of good shots. The turnovers and second-chance points killed us."
The Clippers, missing rookie point guard Eric Gordon for the second straight game because of a bruised left shoulder, used their 25th different starting lineup with swingman Ricky Davis starting at shooting guard. Davis was 1-for-5 from the field and scored five points.
After ending the first quarter with a 7-0 run that gave them a 29-17 lead, Los Angeles led by as many as 15 in the second. Charlotte sliced the margin to 51-45 by halftime and took the lead for good at 64-41 on Bell's 3-pointer with 5:08 left in the third.
Bobcats point guard Raymond Felton, who scored 26 points in Friday's 112-109 win over the Warriors, went to the bench after picking up his second foul with 7:44 left in the first quarter. He didn't report back in until the start of the third, finishing with nine points and seven assists in 24-plus minutes.
|Emeka Okafor's strong numbers (28 points, nine boards) help the surging Bobcats. (Getty Images)|
|Charlotte (25-35) «||17||28||34||21||100|
|L.A. Clippers (15-45)||29||22||20||24||95|
|CHA:E. Okafor 28 Pts
CHA:G. Wallace 9 Reb
CHA:D. Augustin 8 Ast
|LAC:Z. Randolph 33 Pts
LAC:M. Camby 13 Reb
LAC:R. Davis 6 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|B. Diaw, SF||40||7-15||0-0||3||4||2||15|
|R. Bell, SG||38||9-15||0-0||7||2||3||21|
|G. Wallace, SF||37||3-7||3-4||9||3||2||9|
|E. Okafor, C||34||11-17||6-7||9||2||2||28|
|R. Felton, PG||24||4-10||0-0||2||7||2||9|
|D. Augustin, PG||27||2-6||1-2||0||8||1||7|
|V. Radmanovic, SF||20||3-10||0-0||1||2||3||9|
|D. Diop, C||14||1-4||0-0||5||0||1||2|
|C. Martin, PF||7||0-0||0-0||2||1||0||0|
|J. Howard, PF||Did Not Play|
|N. Mohammed, C||Did Not Play|
|S. May, PF||Did Not Play|
|A. Ajinca, C||Did Not Play|
|S. Singletary, PG||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|A. Thornton, SF||41||7-17||2-3||5||2||3||16|
|Z. Randolph, PF||38||12-21||8-10||9||2||2||33|
|M. Camby, C||35||2-2||0-0||13||2||1||4|
|B. Davis, PG||35||6-12||0-0||3||6||3||14|
|R. Davis, SG||27||1-5||2-2||2||6||0||5|
|M. Taylor, PG||25||6-8||0-0||2||3||2||13|
|S. Novak, SF||16||2-7||0-0||0||1||0||5|
|A. Acker, G||13||2-3||0-0||2||1||2||5|
|B. Skinner, PF||10||0-0||0-0||1||0||4||0|
|F. Jones, SG||Did Not Play|
|C. Kaman, C||Did Not Play|
|M. Collins, PG||Did Not Play|
|E. Gordon, SG||Did Not Play|
|D. Jordan, C||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|