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Okafor free throws turn away Hornets

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Emeka Okafor went to the free-throw line
with a chance to give the city of Charlotte some much-needed

The rookie pushed aside his nerves and calmly sank a pair of
free throws with 5 seconds left in overtime to give Charlotte's new
NBA team a win over its old -- a 94-93 Bobcats victory over the New
Orleans Hornets on Tuesday night.

"Any win is important for us, but this one, you could just
sense the fans wanted it," Okafor said. "They wanted us to beat
the Hornets and we sensed it meant a lot to the city. So I was a
little nervous, but I just went up there and made them."

It was the first meeting between the Hornets -- who called
Charlotte home for 14 seasons -- and the expansion Bobcats, the team
that replaced them after they fled to New Orleans at the end of the
2001-02 season following a nasty falling out with the city.

The game between two pretty bad teams wasn't very good until the
end. After 23 lead changes, Jason Hart put Charlotte on top with an
18-footer that made it 92-90 with 23 seconds to go in overtime.

Then Junior Harrington, who scored a career-high 22 points, made
a 3 to put New Orleans up 93-92 with 7 seconds left.

The Hornets had one foul to give, and used it coming out of the
timeout. But Okafor beat P.J. Brown under the basket and referee
Bennie Adams called Brown for a foul, sending Okafor to the line
for the game-winning free throws.

"I thought I knocked the ball away, and I thought it was a bad
call," Brown said. "I was very surprised and shocked he called a
foul. You don't see too many games end like that, just given to the
other team."

Hornets coach Byron Scott was equally upset with the call that
gave New Orleans its 11th-straight loss.

"That was the worst call I've seen in about 12 years, period,"
Scott said. "If (Okafor) makes a play and scores, then that's one
thing. You don't bail them out and that's what (Adams) did, he
bailed them out."

Harrington missed a shot at the buzzer as New Orleans dropped to
an NBA-worst 1-19 on the season. The Bobcats, who are supposed to
be worse as the expansion team, are an enviable 5-14.

Okafor finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds, Gerald Wallace
had 17 points and 10 rebounds and Keith Bogans had 11 points.
Brevin Knight had 11 assists before missing all of overtime with a
bruised forearm.

David Wesley, extremely popular during his days in Charlotte,
led the Hornets with 23 points. Brown had 17 points and 11
rebounds, George Lynch had 13 points and Matt Freije added 10.

The Bobcats celebrated the meeting of the two teams with a
"Conversion Night" that allowed fans to trade in any Hornets gear
for an orange Bobcats cap. It didn't deter a smattering of fans to
keep their memorabilia, and even wear old jerseys during the game.

The old Hornets gear is rarely seen anymore in Charlotte, where
the wounds are still raw from the deterioration of the franchise.
Once revered -- fans set an NBA record with 364 straight sellouts
from 1989-97 -- the city turned on the Hornets in the final two
years over hatred of owner George Shinn.

But if this meeting was supposed to give the city of Charlotte
closure, the Hornets wouldn't allow it by fielding a team that
hardly resembles the one that left. Only seven former Charlotte
players are still on the roster, and four missed the game with

And just as Wesley predicted, he and the other former Charlotte
players received warm welcomes during player introductions from the
crowd of 13,589, proving that the fans hated the situation, not the
actual Hornets.

Still it had to be weird for Wesley when "The Brick Guy" -- the
longtime Charlotte fan who stands behind the basket waving a large
brick to distract opponents during free throws -- frantically tried
to distract him every time he went to the line.

"There was a lot of love here," Wesley said. "It was real
nice to see the fans, the faces. You see them and you remember. It
was nice."

Game notes
The Hornets' record for consecutive losses is 12, set from
Jan. 19-Feb. 14, 1990. ... Okafor was presented with the NBA's
Rookie of the Month award before the game for averaging 13.5 points
and 10.1 rebounds in November. ... Charlotte's Theron Smith made
his season debut after missing the first 18 games following Nov. 8
knee surgery. He played seven minutes and had one rebound and one
assist. ... New Orleans used just nine players. Lee Nailon did not
dress because of a groin injury and Alex Garcia was ruled out for
the season with a knee injury.

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