NBA: Carter, Nets beat Bobcats

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Associated Press

CHARLOTTE — Crack-a-Collins nearly cost the New Jersey Nets a win.

Vince Carter scored 26 points and had two big baskets late in the fourth quarter as the Nets overcame poor free-throw shooting by Jason Collins to beat the Charlotte Bobcats 92-85 on Wednesday night.

Jason Kidd added 17 points for the Nets, who saw a 23-point third-quarter lead sliced to seven after going nearly five minutes without a point.

The Nets couldn’t score in part because Bobcats assistant John-Blair Bickerstaff — who took over as head coach when his father Bernie was ejected — decided to repeatedly foul Collins, a 55 percent free-throw shooter.

The Hack-a-Shaq-like strategy nearly worked. Collins shot

3-of-10 from the line in the fourth quarter — and one of the makes was banked in.

“I see it as an opportunity to get on the scoreboard,” said Collins, who was in good spirits as teammates razzed him the locker room. “I look at it as free points. They tried to help my average.”

Carter bailed him out. His reverse layup and fadeaway jumper from the baseline put the Nets ahead 87-78 with 3 minutes left. New Jersey survived 12 missed free throws in all to win for the seventh time in nine games.

“Vince stepped up in a big way when we were struggling and had a great sense for the moment,” Nets coach Lawrence Frank said.

New Jersey cruised early against the undermanned and poor-shooting Bobcats, who were without three key players and then lost Bernie Bickerstaff to a second-quarter ejection.

But Charlotte, with a mismatched lineup that included little-used Ryan Hollins, fought back under the guidance of John-Blair Bickerstaff, who at 27 is the youngest assistant coach in the NBA.

Hollins scored five of his career-high seven points in the fourth quarter.

“That’s what I wanted to do, play hard,” said Hollins, a second-round pick in last year’s draft. “That’s infectious. It rubs off on guys. I felt like I tried to give the team a lift. We made a run at it.”

Raymond Felton had 18 points and five turnovers and Emeka Okafor added 14 points and 21 rebounds for the Bobcats, who shot 39 percent as they lost their second straight game after a three-game winning streak.

“The second half, the kids were terrific,” said Bickerstaff, who was ejected for the first time this season.

Charlotte was without forward Sean May, who was plagued by pain in his right knee he had surgically repaired last season.