Carter Erupts, Nets Inch Closer to Division Title
New Jersey 90, Miami 78 (F)
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., April 2 (Ticker) -- After delivering another dominant performance against the Miami Heat, Vince Carter has the New Jersey Nets one win away from another Atlantic Division title.
Carter scored 33 of his 43 points in the second half and the Nets played superior defense down the stretch en route to a 90-78 triumph over the Heat.
With the second-longest winning streak in franchise history, the Nets suddenly have a chance at the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, moving within 3 1/2 games of Miami (48-25) with 10 games remaining.
"We always felt it was a possibility," Carter said. "But we have to take care of our jobs and just win. If we just win, everything will fall into place."
Carter had not scored more than 29 points during the Nets streak, but once again saved his best for the Heat, who have been unable to stop the All-Star guard this season. He averaged 38.5 points on 56 percent (54-of-97) shooting in four meetings, including a career-high 51 points in Miami on December 23 and his only triple-double of the season here on February 4.
"I can't explain it and probably don't want to try and figure it out," he said. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
"He enjoys going against the best," Nets point guard Jason Kidd said. "He's one of the best players in this league. Vince gets out of bed with 20 points. Everything after that is when he really starts to play."
After making just 4-of-10 shots in the first half, Carter was 12-of-17 from the floor in the second, including 7-of-11 in the third quarter. He scored 10 points during a key 12-0 run, burying consecutive 3-pointers 29 seconds apart to give the Nets their largest lead at 74-54 with 46 seconds left.
"It was just one of those things, you're in the zone," he said. "I was feeling good, trying to take the shots in the flow of the offense and not force anything."
"We had a handle on him in the first half," Miami coach Pat Riley said. "But when he starts to drain 27-footers, you have to change things up."
The Heat countered with 15 straight points as Dwyane Wade scored six in a row followed by a three-point play from Shaquille O'Neal. After a basket by Antoine Walker, Wade threw an alley-oop to O'Neal and Gary Payton buried two free throws to bring Miami within 74-69 at 9:15.
But Carter re-entered the game after less than two minutes on the bench and buried a 3-pointer 1:13 later to spark a 16-4 surge.
"It was a deep three," he said. "They were in a zone (defense) and I was in between so I just decided to let it go and it went in. I think it deflated them a little."
Carte added two more 3-pointers, a floater and was on the receiving end of an alley-oop from Kidd with 3:17 left that brought the sellout crowd to its feet and puncuated the win.
Richard Jefferson scored 16 points, Nenad Krstic added 11 and Kidd had nine points, nine assists and seven rebounds for New Jersey, which is on its longest winning streak since a franchise-record 14-game run from January 25-February 24, 2004.
Wade scored 32 points but was held scoreless in the final 11:44 and O'Neal finished with 18 for the Heat, who have lost four of their last five on the road.
"I'd like to secure what we've had all season, which is the number two spot (in the playoffs)," Riley said. "We have to gather ourselves and get back on track."
O'Neal and Wade both struggled against the Nets' physical defense, which held Miami to just 41 percent (31-of-75) from the floor, including 2-of-12 3-pointers. The Heat also missed 11 of 25 free throws.
"As soon as we began to struggle offensively, we stopped playing defense," Riley said. "We have to stay the course defensively because we're going to have droughts."