Worst of the worst
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L
109
116
New York @ Charlotte
109 - 116
Record: 17-44
Jalen Rose fighting for the ball (AP Photo)
Jalen Rose fighting for the ball (AP Photo)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - The Charlotte Bobcats just missed finishing with the NBA's worst record during their expansion season. If things keep up, they'll avoid the cellar again this year.

Jumaine Jones scored 28 points to help the Bobcats beat New York 116-109 on Saturday night and edge ahead of the Knicks in the battle to avoid the worst record in the NBA.

But someone forgot to tell the Bobcats that the mark for futility was on the line in this meeting.

"I don't even know what their record is," said Gerald Wallace , who had 16 points and 12 rebounds. "I don't know what our record is. I just come out and play games every night. It's a battle for first place in every game we play."

The victory moved the Bobcats to 18-45 and helped them match their win total from last year's expansion season. New York dropped to 17-44, a humiliating mark for the team with the NBA's highest payroll at $123 million.

The Knicks, who won't even get a lottery pick out of this miserable season because they sent their pick to Chicago in the trade for Eddy Curry , are confident they'll rise up before it's over.

"I don't think we want to be the worst team in the league," said Stephon Marbury , who had 18 points. "It's not by design. At this stage in the season we've got to continue to play hard, just to get better for next year. We're all losers - whoever doesn't win the championship."

Even though the Knicks came in on a two-game winning streak, they really didn't put up much of a fight against Charlotte until very late in the game.

Charlotte broke open the game midway through the third quarter with a 14-4 run and went into the fourth up 95-82.

The Bobcats remained in control, building a 106-91 lead. But New York was able to chip into it at the free throw line, which both teams visited often during a sloppy game that featured a combined 62 fouls.

"We have a problem understanding that just because we are up 12 or 15 with 3 minutes to go, that doesn't mean the game is over," Wallace said. "We just can't do this if we expect to win and be one of the elite teams in the league."

Steve Francis , Jalen Rose and David Lee hit on six straight, then Francis scored on a reverse follow slam to cut the Bobcats' lead to 108-101 with 2:44 to go. Francis followed it with a wide-open layup under the basket that pulled New York within five.

Primoz Brezec made one free throw for Charlotte, then Rose scored on a short jumper and, after Raymond Felton 's turnover, Francis converted a fast-break dunk to cut it to 109-107 with 1:13 to go.

Brevin Knight scored out of a timeout for the Bobcats, then Marbury missed at the other end for New York. Jumaine Jones got the rebound, was fouled, and made both free throws to make it 113-107 with 38 seconds left.

"We had a horrible quarter in the third quarter ... we had gotten it down two and it was a long possession and Brevin made a big shot," Knicks coach Larry Brown said. "Then we missed the jumper and had some lapses."

The game was sealed moments later when Marbury fell down while dribbling and fouled Bernard Robinson as the two wrestled for the loose ball. Robinson made one of two to put Charlotte up by seven and force the Knicks to foul after every possession.

Felton scored 20 points for Charlotte and Brezec had 18.

Rose led the Knicks with 23 points. Eddy Curry scored 19, and Francis finished with 16 off the bench.

Notes:
The Bobcats sold out a home game for just the fifth time this season. ... Both coaches delayed their pregame press conferences to watch the closing minutes of Boston College's victory over North Carolina. "Almost had it," Brown sighed of his alma mater's 85-82 loss. ... Rose was assessed a technical while sitting on the bench in the second quarter for yelling at an official. ... Bobcats guard Kareem Rush missed the game with a stomach virus. ... The Bobcats offered fans a chance to vote on a new nickname for Wallace, and "G-Force" was the winning selection.

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