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Collison leads Okafor, Hornets past Bobcats 104-99

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Darren Collison scored a career-high 24 points filling in for Chris Paul, David West added 21 points, and the New Orleans Hornets gave Emeka Okafor a victory in his return to Charlotte, 104-99 over the listless Bobcats on Saturday night.

In the first regular-season meeting since the July trade that sent Okafor to New Orleans for Tyson Chandler, the Hornets rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit to snap a three-game losing streak since Paul was sidelined with a knee injury.

Okafor, the Bobcats' first draft pick, had 16 points and seven rebounds as the Hornets shot 51 percent from the field.

Stephen Jackson scored 26 points and Nazr Mohammed added all of his 15 in the first half for Charlotte, which has lost three straight.

With the All-Star Paul out at least a month following knee surgery and Marcus Thornton (lower back pain) out for a second straight game, the former Charlotte Hornets' return to town figured to be a formidable task with the Bobcats entering the night 18-5 at home.

But in their first home game in two weeks following a 3-3 West Coast trip, the Bobcats were flat and faded in the second half as Collison took over.

The rookie from UCLA was able to penetrate inside. Following Morris Peterson's consecutive 3-pointers, Collison hit two free throws and later scored on a nifty driving layup to cap a 12-4 run and give New Orleans a 95-85 lead with 5:15 left.

The Bobcats cut a 12-point deficit to 102-99 on Jackson's three-point play with 30.5 seconds left. But then Collison again blew by Raymond Felton for a left-handed layup with 10.1 seconds left.

With Gerald Wallace held to 14 points after missing a game with a hamstring injury, the Bobcats fell below .500 as they again played without Chandler.

Sidelined with a stress reaction in his left foot since Dec. 26, Chandler returned to practice Friday and coach Larry Brown announced two hours before the game that he expected Chandler to play a few minutes.

But Chandler said an hour later that he still wasn't ready and wanted a couple more days of running first. So while he sat out his 22nd consecutive game, Okafor played in his 226th straight.

Okafor, who received light applause in pregame introductions, was outplayed early by Nazr Mohammed, who hit his first seven shots, then went 0 for 2 from the field and played sparingly after halftime.

The Hornets' annual return to Charlotte, where they left in a huff in 2002 over a failed arena proposal, highlighted the replacement Bobcats' financial struggles in their sixth season.

Owner Bob Johnson has lost tens of millions of dollars amid sluggish ticket and sponsorship sales and is looking to sell. It's uncertain whether a new ownership group, which could include former Houston Rockets executive George Postolos, will retain managing partner Michael Jordan. It's led to an uneasy week for Brown and the franchise.

"My hope is that Michael is involved," Brown said before the game. "It's why I came here and I haven't been disappointed."

Jordan, rarely seen at games, wasn't in his courtside seat. The Bobcats did have a rare sellout — only to have one of their worst defensive efforts of the season.

Behind Collison's sharp shooting, the Hornets outscored the Bobcats 36-21 in the third quarter to take a 79-74 lead.

NOTES: Bower said Thornton was making progress and said he could "maybe" play Monday against Orlando. ... Brown interrupted his pregame media availability to hug Okafor as he walked down the hall after visiting some former teammates. "You look fit," Brown told him. "Appreciate it," replied Okafor. ... Bobcats F Alexis Ajinca, who has been in the NBA Development League since Nov. 30, will be in a cast for six weeks after thumb surgery Friday.