A high-scoring offense led by Devin Harris may not be enough to get the New Jersey Nets into playoff position. The Indiana Pacers' recent play is a prime example.

The Nets' rejuvenated offense is keeping them in the playoff hunt, but they'll be focusing on improving their shoddy defense entering the finale of a home-and-home series with the slumping Pacers on Friday night.

New Jersey (31-41) is averaging 109.1 points over its last eight games, going 5-3 over that span after losing its previous six. With Harris settled in at point guard and their offense clicking, the Nets are a half-game behind eighth-place Atlanta for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

But New Jersey knows offense alone isn't going to get it into the playoffs for the seventh straight season. The Nets, surrendering an average of 109.7 points in their last seven games, are particularly concerned with improving on the road.

Six of New Jersey's final 10 games are on the road, where it dropped nine straight and 18 of 20 before beating New York 106-91 on Monday night.

"Especially on the road, defensively, we have to be a whole lot sharper," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "These games are going to be highly contested and each game is going to be a fight."

New Jersey didn't need much defense in its last game, falling one short of matching its season high for points in a 124-117 win over Indiana on Wednesday night.

The Pacers haven't had any problems scoring, either, reaching 100 points or more in their last seven games. Indiana, however, has allowed an average of 119.0 points in two straight losses that have dropped it 2 1/2 games behind the Hawks.

"It's been a disappointing season for us, but with 10 games to go we have a chance to salvage it and make the playoffs," Pacers center Jeff Foster said.

Indiana is going through the type of slump New Jersey desperately needs to avoid. A matchup at the Conseco Fieldhouse will be a tough test, with the Pacers averaging 114.0 points in their last six home games.

"We definitely do need to play better defense," Nets forward Josh Boone said. "We're scoring 120 points at home. We're just outscoring teams. That's not going to get us into the playoffs, since we have a lot of road games left."

Indiana also will likely have forward Troy Murphy back after he missed the opener of this series because of strep throat. Murphy is averaging 12.3 points and 7.2 rebounds a contest.

Pacers forward Mike Dunleavy looks to continue his hot play after he scored 33 points in Wednesday's loss. He's averaging 22.1 points on 51.1 percent shooting in 13 games in March.

New Jersey's starting forwards, meanwhile, certainly seem to be getting more comfortable with Harris orchestrating the offense. Vince Carter had 22 points and Richard Jefferson finished with 20, as Harris dished out a career-best 15 assists Wednesday.

Carter has averaged 29.4 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists in his last five games.

New Jersey has won six of its last seven meetings with Indiana, including two of three this season.


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