CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - The Charlotte Bobcats keep losing key players to injury. Then they keep watching their opponents miss game-winning shots at the buzzer.
It adds up to an unlikely playoff push.
Boris Diaw had 26 points and 11 assists and hit the tiebreaking free throw with 14 seconds left on Wednesday night in a 98-97 win over Cleveland, a victory which wasn't sealed until Anthony Parker's runner bounced off the rim as time expired.
In their four-game winning streak that keeps them one game behind Indiana for the Eastern Conference's last playoff spot, the Bobcats have seen four key players go down with injuries - and six potential game-winning shots by the opposition fail to fall.
``We'll take that luck,' guard Gerald Henderson said.
A night after an emotional home victory over LeBron James and Miami, Cleveland again looked nothing like the team with the NBA's worst record. Ramon Sessions had 24 points and J.J. Hickson overcame foul trouble to score 20 points and grab seven rebounds as the Cavaliers shot 52 percent from the field.
But they couldn't execute their offense in the closing moments to fall to 5-31 on the road.
``I told the guys after the game (Tuesday) night that we've won, it's been a pretty good game, but we would come out flat the next game,' Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said. ``We didn't do that. We competed a lot better. ... Boris Diaw just took over the game in the last few minutes.'
These nailbiting games have become commonplace for the Bobcats. They rallied from 13 points down to beat Boston 83-81 on Friday after the Celtics missed two 3-point attempts in the closing seconds. After holding off New York in the final minute a night later, Milwaukee missed three game-winners in the closing moments of Charlotte's 87-86 victory Monday.
``You see the sweat on me?' Bobcats coach Paul Silas said.
Silas had to work almost as hard as his unheralded players to find an effective lineup to put on the floor.
Top scorer Stephen Jackson tweaked his nagging left hamstring midway through the first quarter, an injury that's had him in and out of the lineup for more than a month. Jackson returned in the second quarter, but could barely move, got no lift on his shot and didn't play after halftime.
``I don't know how long it's going to take, to tell you the truth,' Silas said. ``Every time he comes back, he's feeling great and then something happens for him to go down again.'
D.J. Augustin (12 assists) returned from an ankle injury and Kwame Brown (16 points and eight rebounds) played after missing a game due to a family emergency for Charlotte. But backup point guard Shaun Livingston (bruised tailbone) remained out and forward Tyrus Thomas was sidelined with pain and swelling in his surgically repaired left knee.
Charlotte trailed by eight points in the third and 97-95 with 2:02 left. Diaw's half-hook on the next possession tied it, before missed shots by both teams set up a wild finish.
Diaw got the ball in the post and drew a foul on Ryan Hollins. He hit the first free throw but was short on the second.
The Cavaliers grabbed the rebound, but advanced it slightly before calling a timeout, forcing them to put the ball into play from the side in the backcourt. After Sessions struggled to get into the frontcourt, Scott called a second timeout with 2.8 seconds left.
Parker then got the ball on the left side, but Dominic McGuire got a fingertip on his off-balance, 13-footer and it clanged off the rim.
``AP made a great move. It was just a last minute contest by Dominic McGuire,' Cleveland guard Baron Davis said. ``If he didn't get a hand on it, it would have been a money shot'
In his second start with Cleveland following back and knee issues, Davis had 11 points and six assists in his return to Charlotte, where he began his career with the Hornets.
Davis showed a bit of his old self with a fadeaway and a 3-pointer on consecutive possessions to put Cleveland ahead 91-88 with 4:39 left.
But the Bobcats found a way to win - again.
``We'd love to win by 30,' Henderson said, ``but in the NBA it's a tough thing to do.'
Notes: Scott was still steaming over the officials incorrectly counting James' 55-foot buzzer-beater at the end of the third quarter Tuesday following a clock error. ``I used my initials. I told them it was B.S.,' Scott said. ``If they want to just give them the game, give them the game.' ... Silas said it was no big deal facing the team that fired him in 2005. ``If you had asked me this about five years ago I would've wanted to beat the hell out of them,' he said, smiling. ... Cavaliers F Samardo Samuels (wrist) is eyeing a Sunday return at New York. ... Bobcats assistant coach Charles Oakley attended the morning shootaround but remains in too much pain from his back injury to be on the bench for games.
The Associated Press News Service
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