The New Jersey Nets are still alive in the postseason race - but just barely.

The Nets will be trying to improve their already slim playoff chances on Wednesday when they visit the Cleveland Cavaliers.

New Jersey (32-45) is in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, and would be eliminated from the playoff race with any combination of two losses or Atlanta wins. The Hawks lost 112-98 at Indiana on Tuesday.

New Jersey is trying to extend its run of six straight postseason appearances. The Nets lost in the NBA finals in 2002 and 2003.

However, four of their final five games are away from home and they have won only once in their last 12 road games.

"We're not quite mathematically out," said New Jersey's Vince Carter. "Maybe we are counted out, that doesn't mean we don't come out hard and compete each and every night."

Carter scored 32 points in Saturday's 99-90 win over Toronto, helping the Nets end a four-game losing streak. Carter, who has averaged 30.3 points over his last nine games, returned after missing Friday's loss in Detroit with an injured right ankle.

Carter said the ankle injury is painful and might require surgery after the season.

"This means a lot to me, just to be able to finish the season," Carter said. "I consider myself one of the veterans and one of the leaders of this team, and I'm setting the bar and fighting through the end of the season. You never know. I'm playing to win and finish the season strong."

Leading scorer Richard Jefferson added 28 points Saturday after being held to an average of 17.0 during New Jersey's four-game skid.

Jefferson has averaged 28.0 points this season against the Cavaliers (42-35) and Carter has added 21.7 per game, helping New Jersey win all three meetings. The Nets now look to sweep this season series for the first time since they won all six matchups in 1982-83.

"Right now, we don't have any answers obviously for that team, and it showed tonight, it showed in the first two games," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said after the last meeting, a 104-99 loss in New Jersey on March 12. "They got our number. They kick our behind, and until we go and prove different, you've got to give them credit. Richard Jefferson, Vince, they've had a field day every time we've played them."

Cleveland's LeBron James has averaged 35.5 points in two games against the Nets this season - he missed the first with a sprained left index finger. However, James has been bothered by back spasms recently, and had just 17 points on 6-of-22 shooting in Saturday's 101-86 loss to Orlando - Cleveland's fifth defeat in seven games.

James said he doesn't want to miss any games as the Cavaliers try to clinch the fourth seed in the East. However, James, who leads the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring, was only 1-of-7 in the fourth against the Magic and missed practice on Monday.

"I just have not been able to come through for my team in the fourth quarter the last two games," James said. "It starts with me."


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