One of the original Charlotte Bobcats, Gerald Wallace finally blossomed into their first All-Star this season. The Bobcats probably had those expectations for a different player from the franchise's inaugural edition.
Wallace expects to return to action Saturday night at home against the player he replaced as Bobcats captain - Emeka Okafor and the New Orleans Hornets.
Charlotte (24-24) entered the league in 2004, selecting Wallace as one of 19 players in the expansion draft. Two days later, the Bobcats made Okafor their first-ever draft pick by taking him second overall.
Okafor never averaged more than the 15.1 points per game he produced as a rookie or the 47 double-doubles he recorded that season, and was traded to New Orleans (26-24) last July 28 in a deal that sent Tyson Chandler to Charlotte. This season, Okafor is fourth on the Hornets in scoring with a career-low 11.3 points per game, though he is averaging a team-high 9.6 rebounds.
Wallace, meanwhile, has been the catalyst as Charlotte looks to gain its first playoff berth. The forward strained his left hamstring late in Monday's 98-79 loss at Portland and sat out Wednesday's 99-97 loss to the Lakers, but practiced Friday and should be back in the lineup for this contest.
"I'm good," Wallace told the Bobcats' official Web site. "I woke up this morning and felt a whole lot better than I did two days ago, so hopefully it won't linger on."
Chandler also practiced Friday, but will miss his 22nd consecutive game with a foot injury.
Wallace hasn't played well in the past against New Orleans, averaging 13.2 points on 43.8 percent shooting in nine career starts. The Bobcats have lost seven of 10 to the Hornets, splitting two games last season.
Charlotte completed a 3-3 road trip with Wednesday's loss as Stephen Jackson scored 30 points and Nazr Mohammed added a season-high 23. Stephen Graham started in Wallace's place and scored six.
"We're getting better," coach Larry Brown said. "We compete every night."
The Hornets are trying to avoid a season-high fourth straight loss as they press on without Chris Paul. The All-Star point guard had arthroscopic knee surgery on Thursday and will be out four to six weeks.
New Orleans felt his absence in Friday's 101-94 home loss to Philadelphia. Second-leading scorer David West was held to 11 points, while Peja Stojakovic had a game-high 23.
"We just don't have a good rhythm," West said. "We're going to have to work our way out of it. We're using different lineups and different guys in different positions, just trying to find a way to play the next month with (Paul) out."
Rookie point guard Darren Collison has a total of 13 assists in his last two games after totaling 32 in his previous two starts.
"CP does a good job of getting guys ready," Collison said of Paul. "He's always making sure everybody's in tune for the game. We definitely miss his presence."
Okafor returns to Charlotte after finishing with eight points and six rebounds Friday.
This is the Bobcats' first home game since their franchise-record nine-game home win streak was snapped Jan. 23 by Orlando.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved