Posted Jan 21 2007 1:40PM
A season-high four-game win streak has the New Jersey Nets back at .500 and atop the Atlantic Division. Extending that run will be a little more difficult now that one of their top players is sidelined indefinitely.
The Nets will be without starting forward Richard Jefferson on Monday when they open a five-game road trip against the struggling Sacramento Kings.
Jefferson, third on the team with 16.1 points per game, will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right ankle Monday. Although the team gave no timetable for his return, he is likely to miss at least four weeks.
Jefferson had been bothered by ankle pain since before the start of the season, and left a game against Miami on Nov. 10 after landing on the foot of Heat center Shaquille O'Neal.
The injury comes at a bad time for New Jersey (20-20), which appears to have righted itself by winning nine of its last 11 games. The surge has the Nets back at .500 for the first time since they were 5-5 on Nov. 20.
"It's good that we were able to accomplish this mini-goal," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "Obviously we expect a great deal from ourselves. We are making progress this season, and are showing we can cover bigger teams. We still have a long ways to go. As a mini-goal, (.500) is good, but we're not going to celebrate the fact."
Sacramento is the first stop on the trip for New Jersey, which has lost seven straight games at Arco Arena since an 87-73 victory on Nov. 30, 1997.
This streak features wins over Charlotte, Indiana and New York, but perhaps the most impressive performance of the run came Saturday in a 101-94 victory over visiting Orlando.
Not only did the Nets overcome a 15-point deficit and outscore the Magic 50-20 over a 19-minute span in the second half, they also held star forward Dwight Howard to a career-low one point on 0-for-6 shooting from the field with five turnovers. Howard was averaging a team-high 17.5 points coming into the game.
Vince Carter scored 27 points and Eddie House added 15 of his 17 in the fourth quarter for New Jersey, which has won three of four on the road.
"We're a different team now," Carter said. "We're the team that we expected to be."
The 17 points were the second-highest total of the season for House, who shot 5-of-8 in the final quarter after making 1-of-7 shots in the first three.
"He missed his first couple of shots, but he felt like they were good," Carter said. "Once he started hitting, we decided to feed him and feed him until he got tired of shooting."
The last-place Kings (15-23) ended a seven-game losing streak Friday at Boston, but a slow start Saturday in Detroit sent them to their eighth loss in nine games, 91-74.
Corliss Williamson scored 17 points and Ron Artest had 14 points, six rebounds and four assists in his first game in Detroit since the now infamous brawl more than two years ago.
Sacramento's point total was a season low, and its 35.5 percent shooting was second only to a season-opening 34.8 percent mark against Minnesota.
"We played like we were tired," Kings coach Eric Musselman said. "If you play tired, you're going to lose."
The Kings will try to avoid their first five-game home losing streak since a six-game skid from March 9-April 3, 1998.
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