It may have taken two months, but the New Jersey Nets are finally displaying the form that has led to division titles in four of the past five seasons.

New Jersey looks to keep at least a share of the Atlantic Division lead Wednesday when it visits the Charlotte Bobcats.

The Nets (17-20) figured to be the class of a weak division this season, but dropped nine of their first 14 games and have had a losing record since being 5-5 on Nov. 20.

Improved defense and the surprising play of journeyman center Mikki Moore have helped New Jersey win six of its last eight games. The surge has moved the Nets into a virtual first-place tie with Toronto, just percentage points behind the Raptors.

Moore, playing for his eighth NBA team, has been very good lately while filling in for regular starter Nenad Krstic, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 22.

Moore, who averaged 3.3 points for Seattle last season, has averaged 11.0 points over his last six games, scoring a career-high 20 on 9-of-9 shooting against Minnesota on Dec. 30.

"They're really unselfish," Moore said after scoring 19 points in the Nets' 105-95 victory over Indiana on Monday. "If the play is there, they'll get me the ball. And if they're going to put that trust in me, I have to finish."

New Jersey has limited opponents to an average of 91 points during the 6-2 stretch. It allowed 100 points in the previous eight contests, resulting in a 2-6 mark.

Vince Carter scored 31 points Monday and Jason Kidd just missed another triple-double for New Jersey, which opened up a big first-half lead and easily held off the Pacers.

Kidd came within one rebound of his second triple-double in three games and eighth this season, finishing with 19 points, 10 assists and nine boards.

Despite well-documented personal problems involving an impending divorce, Kidd has averaged 19.0 points, 12.7 assists and 9.3 rebounds over his last three games.

"He's having as good a year as he's ever had," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "He's sending a great message to his teammates, that no matter what happens to you, it's your responsibility to the group to stand up and be counted."

Charlotte (12-24) failed in a bid to match a franchise-record four-game win streak on Monday, falling 99-91 at home to Milwaukee, which had lost five straight.

Matt Carroll scored 20 of his 22 points in the first half and Emeka Okafor added 17 and 12 rebounds for the Bobcats, who closed last season with four straight wins.

"It's very disappointing because we could have had a four-game winning streak, which is something we've been talking about," Carroll said. "It's a big disappointment because you don't get these opportunities too much."

Injured forwards Gerald Wallace and Melvin Ely could return Wednesday for the Bobcats.

Wallace, who has missed the last six games with a separated right shoulder, and Ely, sidelined the past four with a calf strain, both practiced Tuesday, and coach Bernie Bickerstaff is hopeful they can play.

Rookie Adam Morrison scored 22 points in Charlotte's 96-92 victory at New Jersey on Nov. 28. The Bobcats, though, have never won at home against the Nets, losing all four meetings.


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