EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New Jersey Nets won for the first time this season, ending the worst start in NBA history at 18 losses by beating the Charlotte Bobcats 97-91 Friday 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.
Fans stood and cheered in the final minute as the Nets, who set the record for the worst start with their loss to Dallas on Wednesday night, won for the first time since April 13, when they also beat the Bobcats.
Players hugged at center court after the final buzzer, with Vandeweghe standing and clapping in front of the bench.
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 from the line with 1:26 remaining for a 93-86 lead.
New Jersey trailed by as many as eight 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.
Raymond Felton and Stephen Jackson each scored 28 for the Bobcats, who have lost two in a row after a four-game winning streak – including the loss that all New Jersey opponents had desperately wanted to avoid.
Lee's jumper with 10:53 remaining tied it at 71 — though fans loudly groaned as the scoreboard operator, apparently unfamiliar with the Nets being in such good position in the fourth quarter — gave the points to the Bobcats.
The Nets opened a 76-71 lead, blew that, then went ahead by six later in the period, only to have Jackson nail consecutive 3-pointers to tie it at 84 with 2:51 to play, setting up Lee's big finish.
Vandeweghe was given the position Tuesday, two days after the Nets fired Lawrence Frank. Assistant Tom Barrise guided the team for the previous two losses so Vandeweghe could run practice Thursday before coaching for the first time.
He allowed that he was nervous and that the players were feeling pressure to end the skid, a burden he told them not to dwell on too much during practice Thursday.
"We're in a tough spot. There's no magic bullet here, there's no speech that's going to change anything really," he said before the game. "It's really going to take us all joining together and getting back to playing basketball and enjoying ourselves, and that may take a little bit. Again, tough spot, but the future's bright."
His first decision played out perfectly. He changed the starting lineup, inserting Lee for Trenton Hassell — though apparently nobody told the person doing introductions, who announced Hassell, anyway. Lee had been a starter earlier in the season but had been coming off the bench since returning from a groin injury.
The offense was surprisingly good in the first quarter, considering the Bobcats came in 29th in the league in scoring and field goal percentage, right above the Nets in both categories. Jackson scored 11 points, and Charlotte shot 55 percent in taking a 29-28 lead.
They played down to their normal levels in the second, combining to hit just 13 of 41 shots, and Charlotte led 51-47 at halftime. Harris (0-for-5) and top reserve Terrence Williams (0-for-8) missed all their shots for New Jersey.
Charlotte built an eight-point lead with 5:05 remaining in the third, but managed only one field goal the rest of the period and the Nets trimmed it to 69-68 heading to the final 12 minutes.
Charlotte coach Larry Brown coached the Nets in 1981-82 and '82-'83, replaced shortly before the playoffs after deciding to take the Kansas job. … The Nets are getting healthier. Keyon Dooling (hip surgery) and Tony Battie (sore right knee) both played for the first time this season, and Vandeweghe said Yi Jianlian (sprained right knee ligament) practiced Thursday. … Vandeweghe played under Brown for a year at UCLA and again for the Clippers at the end of his pro career.