Players hugged at center court. Fans stood and cheered as music blared through the arena. Finally, the New Jersey Nets got to experience that winning feeling again.
The Nets won for the first time this season, ending the worst start in NBA history at 18 losses by beating the visiting Charlotte Bobcats, 97-91, last night.
Brook Lopez had 31 points and 14 rebounds, and Courtney Lee scored a career-high 27 points in his return to the starting lineup for the Nets in their first game under Kiki Vandeweghe, their general manager who will coach the rest of the season.
“For me, I was happy for the players,’’ Vandeweghe said. “This has been a bit of a struggle. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It was tough, tough on everybody.’’
Vandeweghe stood and clapped in front of the bench as the Nets, who set the record for worst start with their loss to Dallas Wednesday night, won for the first time since April 13, when they also beat the Bobcats.
Lee made the tiebreaking free throws with 2:22 left, dunked after a steal 15 seconds later, and New Jersey put it away when Devin Harris made three free throws with 1:26 left for a 93-86 lead.
“It feels good. We brought great energy,’’ Harris said. “We didn’t play great all time, but we fought.’’
New Jersey trailed by as much as 8 points in the third quarter before controlling the fourth to end any fears of flirting with the NBA’s longest single-season losing streak of 23 games, held by the Vancouver Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets.
“We did a great job of responding tonight,’’ said Nets guard Chris Douglas-Roberts, who criticized his team’s toughness Wednesday. “I’ve seen a lot of guys who looked like new guys out there, really. They looked like new guys, so I have to introduce myself to these new guys.’’
Raymond Felton and Stephen Jackson each scored 28 for the Bobcats.
Lakers 108, Heat 107 - Kobe Bryant banked in a 3-pointer over Dwyane Wade at the buzzer, ending the superstars’ sensational duel and sending host Los Angeles to its eighth straight victory.
Bryant scored 33 points, but his off-balance bank shot from straightaway over Wade’s outstretched hand likely will rank among the most incredible shots of his career.
Wade scored 9 of his 26 points in the final two minutes, but missed a free throw with 3.2 seconds left to give Los Angeles one last chance to tie.
Hornets 98, Timberwolves 89 - Chris Paul came close to a triple-double in his return after missing eight games because of a sprained ankle and Devin Brown had 19 points in New Orleans’s victory over visiting Minnesota.
Paul finished with 16 points, 15 assists, and a season-best 8 steals while playing a game-high 38 minutes 32 seconds.
Al Jefferson had 20 points and 14 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who have lost 17 of 18.
Knicks 114, Hawks 107 - Al Harrington scored 27 points and Chris Duhon had 25 points and 10 assists to lead New York past host Atlanta.
David Lee, often matched against former University of Florida teammate Al Horford, added 18 points and 17 rebounds.
The Knicks made 11 of 25 treys to hand the Hawks only their second loss in 10 home games.
Raptors 109, Wizards 107 - Hedo Turkoglu scored 20 points and hit a jumper with 8.1 seconds left in overtime to give Toronto a victory in Washington, snapping the Raptors’ five-game losing streak.
Chris Bosh led the Raptors with 31 points and 16 rebounds.
Grizzlies 98, Mavericks 82 - Zach Randolph had 24 points and 15 rebounds, and O.J. Mayo added 25 points to help Memphis beat visiting Dallas.
Pistons 105, Bucks 96 - Rodney Stuckey scored 19 points and rookie Jonas Jerebko added 16 to help host Detroit beat Milwaukee, winning for just the second time in 10 games.
Cavaliers 101, Bulls 87 - LeBron James had 23 points and 11 assists and busted out every one of his dance moves as host Cleveland won for the 11th time in 13 games.
Jazz 96, Pacers 87 - Carlos Boozer scored a season-high 35 points to help host Utah beat Indiana and extend its winning streak to four.