Despite all their struggles this season, the New Jersey Nets and Chicago Bulls are somehow still in the Eastern Conference playoff race. While the Nets seem to be getting things turned around, the same cannot be said about the Bulls.

New Jersey looks to win its third straight game and sweep the season series over Chicago when the teams meet Tuesday at the United Center.

After losing their first six games of March, the Nets (28-38) have posted consecutive wins over quality opponents. New Jersey defeated Cleveland 104-99 on Wednesday, and then beat Northwest Division-leading Utah 117-115 on Saturday.

Richard Jefferson finished with 27 points against the Jazz, including a running jumper with 1.5 seconds remaining to give the Nets the win.

"On that situation, you want to win the game or put it into overtime,'' New Jersey coach Lawrence Frank said. "Richard had a great time, great attack and he didn't settle. It was a phenomenal finish and you have to give him a lot of credit.''

The Nets, who have not won three straight games since Feb. 8-12, are nonetheless one-half game back of Atlanta for the final playoff spot in the East.

The Bulls (26-40), meanwhile, have dropped four of five and are 2 1/2 games behind the eighth-place Hawks.

After blowing an 18-point fourth-quarter lead in Friday's 110-106 home loss to Philadelphia, Chicago let a nine-point fourth-quarter lead go to waste in Monday's 108-97 defeat at New Orleans.

The Bulls led 93-84 win 7:01 remaining, but the Hornets finished the game on a 24-4 run.

"That's two games in a row where we controlled the game for pretty much three quarters, and then somehow, something happens and again we get outscored by 20 points in the fourth quarter,'' Bulls interim coach Jim Boylan said. "It's tough.''

The Nets are 2-0 against the Bulls this season - with both of those wins coming in overtime - and have taken 13 of the last 16 meetings between the teams.

However, the Nets have lost three of their last four games in Chicago, and this is New Jersey's first road game since going winless on a five-game trip against San Antonio, Memphis, New Orleans, Dallas and Houston.

The Nets have dropped seven straight road games overall, and 16 of their last 18 away from the Meadowlands. They have not lost eight straight road games since Jan. 19-March 2, 2001.

Vince Carter scored 25 points on Saturday after averaging 14.2 - 6.1 below his season average - in his previous five games. Carter scored a season-high 33 points in a 110-102 home win over the Bulls on Feb. 20.

Chicago's Drew Gooden finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds on Monday. He is averaging a double-double - 21.0 points and 10.3 boards - in his last three games.


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