The New Jersey Nets have controlled the Atlantic Division over the last few
seasons, but the surprising Toronto Raptors are in position to make a run for
their first crown.

The Raptors look for their eighth straight home win when they host the undermanned Nets on Wednesday night.

New Jersey (25-28) has won the Atlantic four of the last five years, but it trails first-place Toronto by 3 1/2 games in the standings.

Although the Raptors (28-24) are leading the division, they have struggled to beat the Nets, losing two of three to them this season. Those also are the only two losses they've had in nine division games.

Toronto should have better luck this time, though, when it faces an injury-plagued New Jersey team. All-Star guard Jason Kidd will miss his second straight game with a lower back strain.

The Raptors, who finished fourth in the Atlantic last season, surpassed their win total from a year ago with a 112-111 victory over Chicago on Tuesday.

"We're a better basketball team. I think the record says that,'' Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said. "We have a lot of guys who can make plays.''

Toronto blew a 12-point lead in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter at the United Center, before Chris Bosh hit two free throws with 2.1 seconds left for the win.

"This shows how this team has turned it around,'' Bosh said. "Despite the breakdown at the end, we stood strong and still got out of here with a victory.''

The Raptors have won nine of their last 11, and return to the Air Canada Centre, where they haven't lost since Jan. 19. Toronto went just 15-26 at home last season, and has not won eight straight home games since March 24-April 17, 2002.

Bosh finished with 25 points and 14 rebounds against the Bulls, and is averaging 32.0 points on 60.0 percent shooting and 8.2 rebounds in his last six home games.

The All-Star has struggled in his two games against the Nets this season, though, scoring just 26 points on 8-of-22 shooting and grabbing 11 rebounds.

New Jersey lost to San Antonio 107-82 on Tuesday, as Kidd missed his first game because of injury since December 2004. The Nets are 11-25 with Kidd out of the lineup.

New Jersey has already been without starters Nenad Krstic (knee) and Richard Jefferson (ankle) for nearly a month, and never really had a chance against the Spurs. They shot just 39.0 percent from the floor, and by the time they hit their first field goal with 5:20 left in the first quarter they were already down by 21 points.

"We have been short-handed for the better part of the year,'' Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "We're not going to start making excuses now.''

Rookie Marcus Williams had nine points and a career-high 10 assists starting in place of Kidd, while Vince Carter had a team-high 18 points.

Carter had 21 points, seven assists and five rebounds in New Jersey's 101-86 victory over Toronto on Jan. 9, and is averaging 28.4 points and 7.8 rebounds in his last five games against them.


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