The Brooklyn Nets know they will need more performances like Saturday's from Deron Williams if they have any plans of going deep into the playoffs.
Williams had 32 points and six assists, carrying the Nets in the final 1 ½ minutes as Brooklyn strengthened its hold on fourth place in the Eastern Conference by beating the Charlotte Bobcats 105-96.
"This league is so full of big-time point guards. When you have one of, if not the best, it makes a huge difference," Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said.
"The things about Deron . when he shoots 11 for 18, gets 32 (and) makes all of his free throws, that's great. But his defense, he did an excellent job tonight. Defensively, he does that a lot. He sets the best screens of all our smalls. He runs the team well; he makes good decisions. He makes most of the offensive calls. He does a lot of things that aren't obvious that he was doing, even when his shot was not there. But when the whole package is there, it keeps us in the game."
Brooklyn moved 1 1/2 games ahead of Chicago for the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
With 6:18 left in the game, Ben Gordon's floater started Charlotte's 12-4 run. He trimmed Brooklyn's nine-point lead in the fourth quarter to 95-94 with 2:44 left after hitting a pair of 3-pointers. Williams then turned the ball over and the Nets called timeout with 2:30 left, but after Reggie Evans was whistled for a foul, Gordon missed another 3-point attempt that would have given the Bobcats the lead.
Joe Johnson missed a fadeaway 18-footer and Williams immediately got to work in order to avoid what would have been one of their biggest losses of the season.
He jump-started Brooklyn's 10-2 run that eventually closed out the game by hitting a turnaround jumper that made it 97-94 with 1:19 left. Charlotte called time with 1:16 left but Gordon lost control of the ball under the basket and Brook Lopez, who practically fumbled away Brooklyn's loss to Chicago two nights earlier, got the steal.
After Jannero Pargo missed a 3-pointer, Williams went on to make six free throws sandwiched around a pair of free throws from Evans.
"I think I'm definitely being more aggressive. I think while Joe is working his way back and getting back to his form, I have to be able to take over," Williams said. "I'm one of the guys that can create his own shot, create for others and I'm just looking to do that."
Lopez added 19 points and backup Andray Blatche had 16 as the Nets completed a four-game sweep of the NBA-worst Bobcats.
Lopez said the team was disappointed in the way the Nets lost to the Bulls after leading by as many as 16 points.
"It was definitely a good day given how the last game ended," Lopez said. "I think we were disappointed in ourselves that we didn't put them away early, but it really was a good test for us to have it go down to crunch time."
Gordon scored 27 points and Gerald Henderson had 22 for the Bobcats.
"When you're coming back, fighting back from the lead, you need to pretty much play perfect basketball," Gordon said. "You can't afford to have any errors and we did. I think that's what cost us the game."
Evans had 10 points and 20 rebounds for the Nets, who have six games remaining. They are off until Tuesday, when they host the Philadelphia 76ers before playing at Boston on Wednesday night. They visit Indiana on Friday and face three teams below .500 in their last three games.
Gordon came off the bench to make 6 of 11 3-pointers for the Bobcats, who have lost two straight and seven of their last 11.
As the Bobcats close out their first season under coach Mike Dunlap, the coach found some positives in another tough loss for his young team. He thought of about 15 games that could have gone their way, including the loss against Miami on Friday night.
"We're carrying a huge amount of losses and this last month we've been unbelievable. It's staying at the game. It's a playoff team. They're in the four hole," Dunlap said. "So whether it's Miami and doing what we did the other night and then winning at home against Philadelphia, the guys in this locker room are in a good place. They like each other. It's rare at this level to accumulate all that and do what we did tonight."
Gordon and Pargo, whose second 10-day contract expired earlier this week and was signed for the rest season, combined for 24 of Charlotte's 31 points in the second quarter to give the Bobcats a 54-53 lead at halftime.
Notes: Johnson had 15 points for the Nets and made only three of his 10-point attempts. ... Blatche scored 12 in the second quarter while Lopez rested. . Williams made a pair of 3-pointers to pass former Net Vince Carter for most 3-pointers made in a season with 157. Kerry Kittles owns the franchise season-record with 158, set during the 1996-76 season. . Brooklyn's 44 wins are its most in a season since winning 49 during the 2005-06 season. ... The Bulls host the Pistons on Sunday. Four of their next six opponents have losing records, but they will also face the Knicks and Heat.