CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -Starting 2-0 in an 82-game NBA schedule usually earns little attention.
Not if you're the Charlotte Bobcats. The fourth-year team has never been two games above .500 at any point - until now.
``It's probably not even a small step, it's a big step,'' first-year coach Sam Vincent said Monday. ``Just because psychologically the guys need to know we can win. They've got to think they can win, all the time. And that develops a certain swagger. Once you develop a certain swagger, you win more games.''
The Bobcats have steadily improved, going from 18 wins in their inaugural season to 26 in year two to 33 last season. But Charlotte was only above .500 once before - when it started 2-1 in the 2005-06 season.
They had earned a reputation for playing teams hard, then folding down the stretch.
Things have changed this season, as the Bobcats finally have a go-to scorer in Jason Richardson, acquired on draft night from Golden State. Richardson has scored 21 and 29 points as the Bobcats have won two close games.
In the season opener Friday, Charlotte overcame 14 missed fourth-quarter free throws, as point guard Raymond Felton's two made free throws with 0.1 seconds left preserved a 102-99 win over Milwaukee.
On Sunday in Miami, the Bobcats let a 16-point fourth-quarter lead slip away. But then Felton and Jeff McInnis combined to hit 4-of-4 free throws in the final minute in the 90-88 win.
``I thought there was some growth in how that game closed,'' Vincent said. ``We played extremely well to get to that 16-point lead and we could've left there with a false sense that, hey, it's going to be easy. Nothing is going to be easy for the rest of the year. It's going to be tough.
``I think the way they came storming back, but we were able to hold on, gives our guys the knowledge that in close, tough games, we can still win.''
And as the Bobcats prepare to host Western Conference power Phoenix on Tuesday, there's a sense of confidence surrounding the team that expansion draft pick Gerald Wallace hasn't sensed before.
``Guys are going to play harder now because they've got that taste of winning,'' said Wallace, who's averaging 17.5 points.
The quick start has been engineered by Vincent. The former NBA player has coached around the world and in the NBA Development League.
His NBA coaching experience consisted of one season as an assistant in Dallas. But so far Vincent has weathered any rookie mistakes and gained the respect of his players.
``It's a different feeling about him. He's a player. He understands the game,'' said Richardson, who in Golden State played for Don Nelson, the second-winningest coach in NBA history. ``He knows what it takes. He listens to guys. He's doing a great job.''
The Bobcats will still have to scrap to make the playoffs.
They're very thin up front. Emeka Okafor, who has two straight double-doubles, is the only consistent big man who can score and rebound. And with Sean May and Adam Morrison out for the season with knee injuries, Charlotte is getting little from their bench. Richardson, Wallace, Felton and Okafor have combined for 85 percent of the Bobcats' points.
But they were an upbeat bunch as they finished practice. While seven other teams were undefeated Monday afternoon, perhaps no team was as happy as the Bobcats.
``With winning comes confidence. We know we can play and we know we can win,'' Wallace said. ``To get off to a 2-0 start, it's the first time this franchise has been like this, our confidence is up.''
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