Playing for one of the final playoffs spots in the Eastern Conference, the New Jersey Nets have the advantage of facing the stumbling New York Knicks twice in their final four regular-season games.

The Nets look to move closer to clinching a sixth straight playoff berth and continue their dominance over the Knicks Friday at Continental Airlines Arena.

New Jersey (37-41), which has not missed the playoffs since the 2000-01 season, is in seventh place in the East, one game in front of eighth-place Orlando and two games ahead of ninth-place Indiana.

The Nets have won six of their last nine games, with their three losses in that span coming on the road to the three best teams in the East - Detroit, Cleveland and the Chicago Bulls, against whom they wrap up their regular season on Wednesday.

New Jersey didn't look much like a playoff team, though, in its 94-76 loss to the Cavaliers on Thursday as it blew a chance to reduce its magic number for clinching a playoff berth to one.

"We still have four games left,'' said Vince Carter, who scored 26 points. "We've got to find a way to get it done. Hopefully we can bounce back. That's the goal right now, just locking down the spot and being a playoff team."

New Jersey has won both meetings against the Knicks (32-46) this season, and wraps up its season series with them on Monday at Madison Square Garden. The series has been completely one-sided lately, with the Nets winning 20 of the last 24 meetings overall, and 10 of the last 12 at Continental Airlines Arena.

Carter had 40 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in the Nets' 101-92 win over the Knicks on Feb. 25, and is averaging 34.3 points - 9.2 better than his season average - in his last three games overall.

Richard Jefferson scored just five points while shooting 2-for-13 on Wednesday against the Cavs after scoring a season-high 35 after making 13 of 19 shots in Tuesday's 96-92 win over Washington. Jefferson scored 21 points in his only game against New York this season, a 101-100 win on Jan. 19.

While the Nets are battling for a playoff spot, the Knicks have nearly played their way out of playoff contention.

New York has lost 10 of its last 12 games to fall to 11th place in the East, including a 98-69 defeat to Chicago on Tuesday that was its worst loss of the season. The Knicks must win their final four games and hope for Orlando, Indiana and Philadelphia to stumble in order to make the playoffs.

The Knicks were without four of their top five scorers - guard Stephon Marbury (sprained right big toe), guard Jamal Crawford (right ankle stress fracture), forward Quentin Richardson (back surgery) and forward David Lee (right leg pain) - against the Bulls, and manged just 10 first-quarter points.

"We just move on to the next game," coach Isiah Thomas said. "Stamina-wise, we were flat, we didn't have bounce, and we didn't have good energy. We just didn't have it tonight. We'll bounce back."

Eddy Curry matched a season low with four points on Wednesday, but is averaging 16.0 points in two games against the Nets this season.

New York has lost five of its last six on the road, while New Jersey has won four straight, and eight of its last 11 at home.


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