New Jersey leading scorer Vince Carter played through an injury in his last contest to help the Nets move one step closer to their sixth straight playoff appearance. Key injuries to Atlanta's lineup have left the Hawks simply searching for a win.

The Nets try to improve their postseason chances when they host the slumping Hawks on Wednesday in their third and final meeting.

New Jersey (34-39) holds the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference, but is only half-game up on eighth-place Orlando and also holds a very slim lead over ninth-place Indiana. The Nets have won three of their last four games, with the lone loss coming to Eastern Conference-leading Detroit on Friday.

Carter tweaked his knee in that defeat, but scored 13 of his 19 points in the third quarter Saturday to lead New Jersey to an 86-82 victory over Philadelphia. He's averaging 24.8 points and is the only New Jersey player to appear in every game this season.

"I was trying to get some blood flowing through there to get rid of some of the stiffness,'' said Carter, who played just 7:34 in the first half due to three fouls. "I felt a step slow. Once the second half started and we were down, I just went out and played. Once I played I felt fine.''

The Nets held an opponent to 82 points or less for the fourth time this season, and will try to duplicate that strong defensive effort against an Atlanta squad that ranks last in the NBA with 93.2 points per game.

"We are playing more consistent basketball right now,'' said Nets forward Richard Jefferson, who scored 14 points. "We still have to get to that level where we can beat good teams like Detroit.''

The Hawks (24-47) certainly aren't one of those good teams, as they're 13th in the East and will miss the playoffs for the eighth straight season. They have dropped six in a row, including a 105-97 defeat to Chicago on Sunday during which they committed 20 or more turnovers for the second straight contest.

"That was the key to the game,'' said Hawks reserve Tyronn Lue, who scored 15 points but had four of the turnovers. "That's what hurt us the most. This was a tough one to swallow.''

Injuries have also been hurting Atlanta lately, as leading scorer Joe Johnson is day-to-day with a right calf contusion that has caused him to miss 13 consecutive games, and guard Josh Childress is out for the season with a stress fracture in his right foot.

Childress, third on the team with 13.0 points per game, will likely need four to six weeks to recover. Second-leading scorer Josh Smith has been picking up some of the slack by averaging 22.3 points and 9.8 rebounds over the last six games, up from his season averages of 16.0 points and 8.5 boards. He recorded 24 points and 12 rebounds Sunday.

The Hawks are 12-25 on the road and have dropped a season-high nine in a row there. They did win in their only trip to New Jersey, 101-99 in overtime Feb. 4 to snap a nine-game skid at the Meadowlands.

The Nets and Hawks have split two meetings this season, with each decided by two points, but the Nets have won 13 of the last 17 matchups.


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