The Charlotte Hornets were hoping for something a little sharper one night before going up against the defending NBA-champion San Antonio Spurs.
The Hornets didn't make a field goal in the last four-plus minutes but hit 10 of 12 foul shots in the final 2:35, helping them pull out a 96-92 victory over the struggling New Jersey Nets on Friday night.
"We don't have the mindset to go out and play tough against someone with a good record," a frustrated Charlotte coach Paul Silas said minutes before the Hornets boarded a late-night flight to San Antonio.
"I thought we sort of played down to our competition. I didn't think we played our best," said Charlotte's Eddie Jones, who hit four free throws in the closing minutes and wound up with 24 points, including a 12-for-12 showing from the line. "We've got to learn how to get up for teams that are not as good as San Antonio."
Jones, who came in averaging an NBA-leading 3.2 steals, had five more and added five assists as the Hornets improved to 4-0 at home. Elden Campbell and David Wesley added 17 points apiece for Charlotte. Wesley had 11 assists and Campbell had 11 rebounds.
"Yeah, we messed around, but we still found a way to win, which is big," Wesley said. "I don't think we can walk away from this game being happy with anything other than we won. At times, the effort wasn't there."
The Nets had 24 turnovers that Charlotte converted into 35 points, helping send the Nets to their fourth consecutive loss to the Hornets. New Jersey shot 57 percent in the first half but wound up at 49 percent
"We played hard but we just made a lot of unnecessary mistakes," said Stephon Marbury, who led New Jersey with 31 points. "It's always in the fourth quarter when you get the win or loss, and we just didn't convert."
Kendall Gill and Scott Burrell missed 3-point tries for the Nets in the closing seconds, and Burrell's bounced out of bounds, giving Charlotte possession with six seconds left and a 95-92 lead. Campbell sealed it by hitting the second of two foul shots less than a second later.
"This was the best game that we played all year so far," Burrell said. "We just have to finish teams off. We played a better game, so we'll just have to build on this one."
Marbury scored five consecutive points to put the Nets up 87-86 with 2:48 remaining. The Hornets went back on top before Keith Van Horn evened it up again on a 3-pointer that made it 92-all with 1:19 left.
After Charlotte's Bobby Phills made the second of two free throws at the 58-second mark, Wesley drew a charging call on Gill with 46 seconds remaining.
Neither team was able to score on its next possession, and Burrell was called for a loose-ball foul while battling Wesley for a rebound. Wesley's two free throws put the Hornets up by three.
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