EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., April 12 (Ticker) -- Now, the New Jersey Nets have the lead in a race that nobody seems to want to win.

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Richard Jefferson scored 21 points and Keynon Martin added 19 as the Nets avoided a third straight loss to a sub.-500 team with a 94-86 victory over the short-handed Toronto Raptors.

"We played well tonight," Jefferson said. "Guys hit shots and we got defensive stops."

Despite missing 19 of its last 21 shots, New Jersey (49-31) moved one-half game ahead of Detroit in the battle for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. It was coming off setbacks to Atlanta and Chicago.

The Nets, who clinched at least the third seed, have a tough closing schedule, hosting New Orleans on Monday and visiting Indiana on Wednesday.

"Any particular win at this time is a good win," New Jersey coach Byron Scott said. "It was a good win against a team that is decimated by injuries. But I knew they were still going to come out and play hard. I thought the first 42 minutes we played pretty good. The last six minutes of the game, we started to form some bad habits, turning the ball over and playing like it was the first quarter."

Toronto's Alvin Williams dressed but did not play due to a swollen left ankle, leaving the Raptors with just seven healthy players. Vince Carter (sprained left ankle) and Antonio Davis (swollen right knee) are out for the rest of the season.

"We went out there and put forth the effort and tried winning the game," Toronto forward Jerome Williams said. "Tonight, we were just undermanned."

After going scoreless in the final 4:51 of Friday's 95-86 loss at Chicago, New Jersey started slowly against Toronto, falling behind, 15-10, midway through the first quarter.

But the Nets were able to wear down the Raptors, outscoring them, 32-19, in the second period to open a 58-45 lead at intermission. They opened their biggest lead at 80-57 on Martin's jumper with 3:06 left in the third quarter.

New Jersey scored just 10 points in the final period, allowing Toronto to slice into the deficit. Overall, the Nets shot just 18 percent in the fourth quarter (5-of-28).

Morris Peterson scored 22 points for the Raptors, who suffered their sixth straight loss.

"When you go against a team like New Jersey, you have to have all of your players," Peterson said. "They have some great players on their team and it's really hard to play well against them, especially when you only have seven players."

Dikembe Mutombo grabbed 11 rebounds for the Nets in just 16 minutes off the bench.

"I thought he was very active," Scott said. "He was able to contest some shots and he got (two) blocks. I see that rust coming off and I think he's getting better."

"Now that we have Dikembe, you can see how effective he is starting to be," Jefferson added. "So, we are excited about that. Once we get our groove going and get our regular rotation down, I think we are going to be right where we want to be."

Still, the Nets had trouble closing out the game. After taking a 92-74 lead on Jason Kidd's olley-oop layup with 6:59 left, they nearly matched Friday's drought by going scoreless for more than 4½ minutes.

The Raptors closed to 92-80 on Mamadou N'diaye's two foul shots before Brian Scalabrine's jump shot ended the Nets' drought with 2:10 left. New Jersey scored just two points in the final seven minutes.

Kidd contributed 17 points and Kerry Kittles chipped in with 10 for the Nets, who finished at 43 percent from the field (38-of-88).

Rafer Alston added 19 for the Raptors, but made only 5-of-17 shots.

The Nets held the Raptors to 38 percent (29-of-76) and dominated inside, holding a 50-34 edge in points in the paint.