ATLANTA, March 31 (Ticker) --
Not even a bad game by Jason Kidd
down the red-hot New Jersey Nets.
scored 27 points and Vince Carter
came up with
two big baskets in the final minute as the Nets extended their
winning streak to 11 games and clinched a playoff berth with a
91-88 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
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Kidd managed 11 points on a dismal 1-of-12 shooting effort and
had just two assists for New Jersey (43-28), which inched closer
to its fourth division title in five seasons.
"It's an accomplishment, but we have much larger goals,"
Jefferson said. "We're a confident group. We will lose a game
before the season's over, there's no doubt. But we're healthy
and we're playing well."
"The big picture is to win as many games as possible," Carter
said. "I had no clue (about making the playoffs). Nobody
mentioned it. We just have to win as many games as we have
Jefferson and Carter helped make up for Kidd's struggles,
combining for 41 points through the first three quarters as the
Nets overcame an early 11-point deficit to take a 66-64 lead.
"We haven't had a good time in Atlanta," said Kidd, referring to
New Jersey's last visit to Philips Arena - a 104-102 overtime
loss February 27. "We played one of our worst games in the
(winning) streak. But our defense got stops when we had to."
"We didn't shoot well as a team," Jefferson said. "But when you
attack the basket, that can help you out with some errors."
The game remained tight in the final period, with Josh Smith
3-pointer forging an 82-82 tie with 90 seconds remaining. Carter
missed on the other end but was able to tip in the rebound to
put the Nets back in front 21 seconds later.
tied it with a thunderous dunk over Jason Collins
but missed the ensuing free throw. Carter then was able to
once again follow his own miss with 42 seconds to play, giving
New Jersey the lead for good at 86-84.
"I put it up, (Smith) was trying to go for the block," Carter
said. "I knew that if I didn't make the shot, I had to try and
get in position (for the rebound). It's win by any means.
Sometimes it's not going to be pretty."
Kidd forced Joe Johnson
into a turnover on the other end and hit
5-of-6 free throws down the stretch to seal it.
"I thought our effort was great," Hawks coach Mike Woodson
"From a defensive standpoint, you hold this team to 91 points
and 34 percent shooting, you figure you win the game. We had
our chances, but they made the plays down the stretch to win the
Johnson scored 22 points and Smith added 17 for the Hawks, who
have lost six of their last seven.
"It's coming down the stretch, but I can't let these guys stop
playing," Woodson said. "They have to keep competing."
"We had a chance today to break their win streak," Smith said.
"We battled it out to the end. I missed a couple of layups and
we lost the game by three. It's just different things that we
didn't do right tonight."
Atlanta opened a 20-9 lead on rookie Marvin Williams
' dunk with
4:34 left in the first quarter. But New Jersey cut the deficit
to 45-44 at the break and moved in front in the third, despite
shooting only 19 percent (4-for-21) in the session.
The Nets shot just 35 percent (26-of-75) overall.
"We now have three wins in this stretch where we shot under 40
percent and were still able to get the win," Nets coach Lawrence Frank
said. "Our guys were persistent. We gutted it out and
found a way to win."