Neither the New Jersey Nets nor the Indiana Pacers will finish this season with a winning record, but that might not stop either team from making the playoffs.

In fact, each team may be the other's main obstacle to a postseason berth.

On Wednesday night in East Rutherford, the Nets and Pacers open a home-and-home series that could go a long way in determining which team has the edge in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

New Jersey (30-41) has already matched its loss total from last season, when it went 41-41 for its first non-winning finish since 2000-01. The Nets, though, remain in the hunt in the East playoff race, trailing eighth-place Atlanta by one-half game.

Indiana (29-42) ensured its second consecutive losing season with a 114-106 defeat to New Orleans on Tuesday night that dropped the 10th-place Pacers one game behind the Nets.

While both clubs have had disappointing seasons, they're still in playoff contention in the shallow East. This home-and-home series will likely have a big impact on each team's chances, as each club has only 11 games remaining to get back into the top eight.

Indiana pulled back into the race with a season-high four-game win streak, but had its run snapped with Tuesday's loss. Six Pacers players reached double figures in scoring, but Indiana was outscored 19-2 in a critical five-minute stretch spanning the second and third quarters.

"This one hurts, but it's over with and we've got to put it behind us," said Pacers forward Shawne Williams, who scored 17 points off the bench. "We were there. We just didn't pull it off. We have to get better from this."

Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson and Nenad Krstic all scored at least 22 points in New Jersey's 106-91 victory over New York on Monday. The win helped the Nets avoid getting swept in their season series against the Knicks for the first time since losing all three meetings in lockout-shortened 1998-99, but Nets coach Lawrence Frank insists that fact wasn't on his players' minds Monday.

"We weren't really thinking about a sweep,'' Frank said. "Regardless of who we play, we need to win as many games as possible. So, this was just game one of 12."

Carter agreed with his coach, stressing the importance of consistent effort through the Nets' remaining games regardless of the opponent.

"I know we're playing the last 11 games this season and all that other stuff doesn't matter to me," Carter said. "When you step in the game, you need to bring it. I'm just glad to see the guys really respond tonight."

Carter is averaging 29.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists while shooting 52.4 percent from the field in his last five games, but New Jersey is just 2-3 in that stretch.

These teams split a home-and-home series Feb. 22-23, with the home team winning each contest. Jefferson averaged 35.0 points and shot 55.8 percent (24-for-43) from the field in those games, while Indiana's Mike Dunleavy averaged 26.5 and shot 51.4 percent (18-for-35).


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