"Guys are over there taking off their tape," guard Richard Hamilton said.
The Pistons' reserves made that premature. Before holding on for a 90-86 win over the new-look Bobcats, every starter except Iverson returned to the game. Rasheed Wallace's 3-pointer with 10.4 seconds left ended a nearly 7-minute scoring drought. Hamilton's two free throws with 3.8 seconds to go avoided a monumental collapse from a 29-point third-quarter lead.
"Honestly, I didn't want to go back in," said Iverson, who scored 20 points through three quarters. "I felt that our second team should have closed that thing out."
Iverson said he wanted to check in as a group of mostly Bobcats reserves went on a 17-0 run to cut it to 85-84 on Raymond Felton's layup with 34 seconds left.
"Why would you ask me that about Allen?" said a clearly agitated Pistons coach Michael Curry, whose teams have struggled to hold leads. "Why don't you ask me about the group of guys that played poorly?"
It was a bizarre atmosphere in both locker rooms after an odd game that featured the Bobcats looking horrible with their two new players. But then an odd mix of little-used players made Detroit sweat.
The Pistons shot 3-for-16 and committed six turnovers in the fourth quarter. But after Felton's hoop, Wallace responded with a straightaway 3 -- the Pistons' first points since the 6:55 mark -- and put a finger to his lips to quiet the crowd.
Hamilton added 18 points, and Rodney Stuckey had 13 points and 10 assists in his third straight start at point guard for the Pistons, who won their second straight game with their new, smaller lineup despite being outscored 30-12 in the final period.
"It's hard. When you're up 25 and you're going into the fourth, you know that the game is most likely to be over," Hamilton said. "But [Larry Brown's] teams -- he coached us -- they're never going to quit."
Gerald Wallace had 22 points and nine rebounds for the Bobcats in his return after missing three games following the death of his grandmother. Wallace's father also died on Thursday, and he may miss another game next week.
Diaw had seven points on 3-of-10 shooting and nine rebounds, and Bell missed seven of nine shots and finished with four points in the duo's Charlotte debuts, three days after they were acquired from Phoenix for Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley. Charlotte has lost six straight.
Wednesday's trade was the first major move by the Bobcats since Brown took over as coach in May. But Brown was left in a tough spot on Saturday.
The ex-Pistons coach had more experience coaching Detroit's roster than the team on his sideline. He gambled in starting Diaw at power forward -- the struggling Sean May was on the inactive list -- and Bell at shooting guard to replace Richardson.
Diaw and Bell reported on Friday, but couldn't practice because Richardson and Dudley hadn't taken their physicals to make the trade official. They took home a DVD showing the team's plays and went through a crash course at Saturday's shootaround, but they looked lost.
"You could tell they kind of looked out of sync out there," Felton said.
Diaw ran into Felton on a botched pick-and-roll on Charlotte's second possession. Diaw picked up his second foul 4 minutes in. Bell was called for traveling twice in the first quarter, and his bad inbounds pass led to Iverson's layup and an 11-2 Detroit lead.
"It mostly was because we didn't know any of the plays," Diaw said. "We kind of slowed the team because of us. We didn't know where to go."
Charlotte shot 5-of-19 in the first quarter, and tied a team record with 10 turnovers. Bell, who became the Bobcats' top defender, also struggled to contain Iverson.
But Iverson watched -- and worried as the Pistons nearly coughed up a seemingly insurmountable lead.
"It's a feeling of disgust, but it's some happiness in there, too, because you won the game," Iverson said. "You feel bad, but it could have been worse."
Despite Iverson's "We're talking about practice!" rant from their days together in Philadelphia, Brown remains a staunch defender of Iverson and his motivation to win a title. "For the first time I think he has a chance," Brown said. "Even though we went to the finals in Philly, we were so banged up when we got there, no matter how great he played we really didn't have a chance." ... F Juwan Howard, signed by Charlotte on Friday, and G Sean Singletary, acquired in the Phoenix trade, were on the inactive list.