CHARLOTTE - Not the same story from a different city, but the same result nonetheless. Once again, the 76ers couldn't find a way to hold a lead late, make key defensive stops or pull out a win in a close game as they lost to the Charlotte Bobcats, 100-97, at Time Warner Cable Arena last night.

After a monstrous first half by diminutive guard D.J. Augustin, the Sixers (17-25) were beaten by the likes of Nazr Mohammed and Gerald Henderson down the stretch, players who don't average 12 points a game combined. It was the Sixers' fourth loss in six games and came a night after they blew away a win in Orlando, allowing two critical four-point plays.

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Augustin looks like the type who stayed on the basketball court all afternoon, forgoing dinner so he could hone his game a little more.

He is generously listed at 180 pounds, but he had an insatiable appetite last night, and ate up the Sixers to the tune of 31 points.

Augustin hit three three-pointers early in the game, which opened up the lane for uncontested drives the rest of the half. In the first 24 minutes, Augustin finished with 25 points, missing only one of his 11 shots, and dealt four assists.

"He hurt us," a drained Doug Collins said. "I thought our big guys were a little slow on the pick-and-roll in the first half and so he turned the corner on us. We drifted off of him early, gave him three quick threes, and once a guy gets hot like that, it's hard to get him stopped."

The Bobcats, who had not scored more than 96 points in their previous six games, scored 30 in the first quarter and led, 56-50, at the half.

After hitting the first shot of the second half, Augustin did cool down, but he wasn't the only one who caused the damage. Mohammed collected 15 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes, and swingman Gerald Henderson scored eight of his 11 points down the stretch. Stephen Jackson added 14 for the Bobcats.

It was more the Sixers' defense, or lack thereof, that had Collins throwing his head into his hands most of the night. When Augustin wasn't hitting wide-open shots or strolling down the lane for easy buckets in the first half, Mohammed was getting put-backs or benefiting from defensive mixups by the Sixers in the second. Numerous times on pick-and-rolls, two defenders either ran to the ball, leaving a wide-open big man underneath, or fell back into the lane, leaving a wide-open jumper.

"There was a lack of communication on some of those plays," said Elton Brand, who finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds. "They have some guys that can score, some guys who can fill it up. There was not enough talking tonight."

Still, the Sixers hung in and took the lead twice, both times on baskets by Thaddeus Young, who had a team-high 21 off the bench. His tip of his own miss with 1:52 remaining gave the Sixers a 91-90 lead.

Henderson then hit jumpers on Charlotte's next two possessions for a 94-91 lead. He almost blew his heroic status, though, as he fouled Andre Iguodala on a three-point attempt with 40.9 seconds left. Iguodala made the first two free throws, but missed the third, and Henderson promptly drained a 19-footer after curling off a screen for a 96-93 lead with 26 seconds left.

The Sixers got the ball to Young on the next possession, but there was some confusion as to what play to run and how to do it. Ultimately, the ball wound up in Iguodala's hands, but he missed a 10-footer with 11 seconds to go. Augustin grabbed the rebound and made the ensuing foul shots for an insurmountable five-point lead.

"It took us too long," Collins said of the key possession when his team was down three. "I'm not a proponent of shooting a three with 26 seconds to go. I'll take the heat on that one, because it took us too long. I should have had Thad catch the ball and attack. They did a good job of pressuring him. We got a jump shot in the lane, and it was an open shot. It just took too long for the play to materialize."

Iguodala scored 19 points and had five each of rebounds and assists. Jrue Holiday posted 13 points and seven assists, while Lou Williams added 11.

"That [pick-and-roll] is something we struggle with," center Spencer Hawes said. "The effort is there on defense; we just don't necessarily have that chemistry developed yet. Communication is a big part of developing that."

Six shots

Bobcats forward Tyrus Thomas originally was scratched from the game because he woke up from his afternoon nap with a swollen left knee. Once he arrived at the arena, an MRI exam showed a tear of the lateral meniscus. He will have surgery soon and is expected to miss close to 8 weeks . . . Sixers swingman Andres Nocioni missed his third straight game because of the broken middle finger on his right hand. He is still day-to-day. *

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