Daily Confidential

Despite sliding in the wrong direction for more than three weeks, the New Jersey Nets maintain a slim lead in the weak Atlantic Division. They'll try to get back on track against another struggling team on Monday when they host the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Nets opened the season 5-3, but have dropped nine of their last 11 games including a 92-90 defeat to the Boston Celtics on Saturday. At 7-12, New Jersey's .368 winning percentage would put them in last place in the Central or Pacific divisions, but it's good enough for first place in the Atlantic.

The Nets, who hold a one-half game lead over New York and Toronto, looked poised for a turnaround Saturday, scoring the first 18 points of the game and leading by as many as 20 points in the opening quarter. They couldn't hold on, however, scoring just 17 points in the fourth quarter and losing on Paul Pierce's buzzer-beater.

``Starting 22-2 sends a strong message,'' Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. ``You can't let down. You have to do everything in your power to stay consistent in doing what you did to get the lead.''

The defeat dropped New Jersey to 1-3 on its six-game homestand.

New Jersey leading scorer Vince Carter posted his third double-double of the season on Saturday, but his 19 points were his fewest in the last 10 games. Nenad Krstic scored a team-high 20 points in the defeat, and Richard Jefferson added 17.

Jason Kidd scored a season-low five points, and remains tied with Wilt Chamberlain for the third-most triple-doubles in NBA history with 78. He also had only five points in his last meeting with Memphis on March 29, but the Nets still pulled out an 86-74 win.

That victory snapped New Jersey's five-game losing streak against the Grizzlies.

Memphis has dropped five of its last six games, including an 89-82 defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday, and has yet to win consecutive games this season. The Grizzlies shot just 21 of 34 from the free-throw line against the Clippers and got only eight points from leading scorer Hakim Warrick, half his team-leading average.

``The big thing that hurt us a lot were missed free throws,'' said Memphis coach Mike Fratello, whose team is 2-10 on the road this season. ''(We were) 0-7, missed catches in the paint, and missed high percentage shots. Our 19 turnovers led to their (22) points, and along with our 13 missed free throws, that really hurt us.''

Mike Miller scored 19 points and tied his season high with 13 rebounds, but the Grizzlies fell to 5-15, a far cry from their franchise-best 13-7 record at the same point last season.

Eddie Jones returned to the court Saturday after being sidelined for 13 games with right Achilles' tendinitis.

Both teams have players closing in on 6,000 career points. Miller is 15 points shy of the milestone for Memphis, while Jefferson needs 13 to hit the mark for New Jersey.

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