Charlotte 96, Indiana 87

CHARLOTTE, N.C., Nov. 9 (AP) -- Emeka Okafor has been studying video of other big men, trying to figure out how to get better. He's watched some old tape of Hakeem Olajuwon, and looked at the inside moves of current stars Yao Ming, Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O'Neal.

On Friday night, Okafor looked like a combination of the four, dominating O'Neal and the Indiana Pacers with 25 points and 23 rebounds in leading the Charlotte Bobcats to a 96-87 win.

"I've been looking at other big men and what they do and watching what I do and kind of just comparing,'' Okafor said. "I was just trying to figure out what it was and trying to get it back.''

Okafor's second career 20-20 game helped the Bobcats erase memories of losing their previous two games by 31 and 32 points, while Okafor had his best game since he turned down a contract offer from the Bobcats before the start of the season.

With nights like these, Okafor could be in for a big payday come July when he'll become a restricted free agent.

"Emeka really is our heart and soul,'' coach Sam Vincent said. "When he's got a thunderous heartbeat like he did tonight, our team plays with thunder.''

Gerald Wallace scored 28 points and Raymond Felton added 17 points in his return after missing a game with a sore left knee, but the night belonged to Okafor. He looked much different from the guy who failed to score and missed all six shots Tuesday against Phoenix, and was just 3-of-6 from the field a night later in Philadelphia.

Okafor seemed to grab every loose ball and consistently hit shots over O'Neal, who was held to seven rebounds and plagued by foul trouble.

"I told Mek I haven't seen that since his rookie season,'' Wallace said. "I told him we need him and we need those kind of performances if we're going to be a playoff team.''

O'Neal had 18 points, Troy Murphy scored 16 and Danny Granger added 15 for the Pacers, who were outscored 24-4 in the first 8 minutes of the final period and lost their second straight game.

"We stopped making shots and they ran a better offense than we can defend right now,'' Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said.

Indiana led 73-65 entering the fourth, only to go scoreless for nearly 5 minutes. Okafor had a three-point play and Wallace had a thunderous dunk and a 3-pointer in a 10-0 run to give Charlotte a 78-73 lead.

Jamaal Tinsley ended the drought of six straight missed shots and three turnovers with a runner in the lane with 7:08 left.

But Okafor responded with a putback dunk, then grabbed his 20th rebound on the offensive glass on the next possession, leading to Matt Carroll's 3-pointer to make it 83-75 with 6:02 left.

Okafor's bucket with just four 4 minutes left gave Charlotte a 12-point lead, and he put it away 2 minutes later with a high bank shot over O'Neal.

"I think Okafor did a great job on taking up the space and not allowing me to get back in the position to rebound the basketball,'' O'Neal said.

Okafor made 10 of 14 shots, but only 5 of 13 free throws just over a week after he turned down a contract for less than the maximum amount the Bobcats could have offered their former first-round pick.

The Pacers, coming off a home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, were in control early, leading by 10 in the first quarter and eight in the third, when O'Neal went out with his fourth foul.

Indiana, outrebounded 52-39, couldn't take advantage of the Bobcats' 27-of-44 free-throw shooting. The Bobcats missed 21 free throws in a win over Milwaukee last week.

Notes: Pacers G Marquis Daniels sat out with a sore left knee, although O'Brien said Daniels should play Saturday against Denver. ... Bobcats F Othella Harrington (knee) likely won't play for another week. ... Posted on the wall in Bobcats coach Sam Vincent's office Friday was a new rule calling for the best shooter to take technical free throws. On Wednesday in Philadelphia, Wallace took and missed a technical free throw ahead of Carroll, a career 86 percent shooter.


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