By Larry Fine
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Reuters) - The New Jersey Nets ended the NBA's longest season-opening losing streak on Friday, notching their first victory after 18 defeats by beating the Charlotte Bobcats 97-91.
The Nets scored nine successive points after the game was tied 86-86 with 2:22 remaining to set up the victory and give the home crowd something to cheer about after five weeks of losing.
The crowd of 12,131 gave the 1-18 Nets a standing ovation at the final buzzer as the players hugged each other on court.
"You know what felt good, was how hard our guys played," said interim coach Kiki Vandeweghe, the Nets general manager who was making his debut on the bench. "This was a team win. I was very pleased with the effort."
Center Brook Lopez led the Nets with 31 points and 14 rebounds, while guard Courtney Lee contributed 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting.
Stephen Jackson and Raymond Felton both scored 28 points for the Bobcats, who dropped to 7-11.
Charlotte suffered from a poor percentage from the free-throw line, making just 18 of 30, while New Jersey cashed in 24 of 29 attempts.
"We missed free throws and the Nets played good," said Charlotte coach Larry Brown. "The Nets played with a lot of energy."
Lee started New Jersey's game-winning burst with a pair of free throws that put them up 88-86. Lee then stole the ball from Boris Diaw and streaked down the floor for a slam dunk.
Guard Devin Harris was fouled by Raymond Felton while attempting a three-pointer and made all three free throws to make it 93-86. Lopez then converted two more free throws on a fast break following a turnover to provide a 95-86 cushion.
"We fought hard, we had a run and made stops when we had to," Harris told reporters.
Harris showed his desire when he launched himself five rows into the stands in an effort to save a ball from going out of bounds with a nine-point lead and 1:07 left on the clock.
"We all had energy and emotion for this game," said Lee.
Chris Douglas-Roberts, who questioned the team's heart after their record-setting loss at home to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, said he viewed the game as a start.
"I'm looking at it like we're 1-0," the guard said. "I saw everything that I was talking about -- we made some hard fouls, protected the paint, didn't let guys do what they wanted to do. That's a sign of toughness.
"A lot of guys looked like new guys out there, really. I have to introduce myself to these new guys."
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)