The Philadelphia 76ers were off to a dismal start to the season when they fired general manager Billy King and hired Ed Stefanski away from the New Jersey Nets.

When Stefanski's Sixers visit New Jersey on Tuesday for the first time since then, they'll be looking to move a step closer to their first playoff berth in three years - while damaging the Nets' chances of earning their seventh straight trip to the postseason.

Philadelphia was just 5-12 when Stefanski was hired on Dec. 4, but is 32-25 since, including an impressive 19-7 run since Feb. 5 that has put the team on solid ground to earn its first playoff berth since the 2004-05 season.

The Sixers (37-37) are six games ahead of ninth-place New Jersey in the Eastern Conference, with a magic number of five to clinch a spot in the postseason.

The Nets (31-43), meanwhile, slumped behind Atlanta in the race for the East's final playoff spot after going just 5-11 in March. New Jersey last missed the playoffs in the 2000-01 season - Stefanski's first in New Jersey when he was scouting director.

Both teams will be hoping to avoid three-game losing streaks. Philadelphia, coming off losses to Phoenix and Cleveland, hasn't dropped three straight in more than two months. The Sixers have also only lost twice in their last eight road games, a run that includes wins at Boston, Detroit, and Phoenix.

But they lost 91-88 at Cleveland on Sunday, squandering an 11-point lead and scoring just 40 points in the second half. Andre Iguodala had 19 points and Andre Miller added 16 and nine assists, but the Sixers shot just 43.9 percent from the field and were outrebounded 44-37.

Still, coach Maurice Cheeks was happy with his team's performance.

"It was a tough loss for us. To play Cleveland like this, with LeBron (James), it's like a playoff atmosphere, playoff basketball," Cheeks said. "It was something I talked to the guys about, being able to play in that moment like that, and we responded."

Philadelphia, which is in a tight race with Washington and Toronto for the fifth spot in the East, could potentially face the Cavs in the first round.

New Jersey would be happy to play anyone in the playoffs, but that would take an impressive comeback over the season's final two weeks.

The Nets are coming off a 110-104 home loss to the Suns on Saturday, as they allowed at least 110 points for the seventh time in the last nine games. They lost despite 32 points, seven rebounds and six assists from Vince Carter, who scored 33 with nine rebounds in a loss at Indiana Friday.

"We're just trying to figure out what we can do to get over the hump, and every play and every game counts right now," Carter said. "We have to play with a lot of fire if we want to play in the second season."

The Sixers were the last team to hold the Nets under 100 points in a 91-87 win on March 22, when Iguodala had 28 points. Philadelphia lost the first two meetings earlier in the season and has dropped three straight and seven of its last nine in New Jersey.


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