The 76ers are tied with the Chicago Bulls for eighth place in the conference, and trail Indiana and Milwaukee, tied for sixth, by one game. Philadelphia is also only two behind fifth-place Washington.
The Sixers kept the pressure on the teams in front of them Wednesday night, routing the Atlantic Division-champion New Jersey Nets 116-96 on the road. Allen Iverson had 40 points and 10 assists to lead Philadelphia, which remained tied with Chicago for the eighth spot.
“They’re a team that won 14 games in a row,” Iverson said of the Nets, who are 1-3 since a club-record 14-game winning streak. “We felt they were going to come out and play hard. We just wanted it. We can go to Miami and they’ve already locked it up, so hopefully we can jump on them the same way.”
The 76ers did that to the Nets by shooting 61 percent from the field in the first quarter to take a 12-point lead. They shot 50 percent for the game while tying their season low with seven turnovers.
Philadelphia’s playoff hopes got an additional boost from the return of forward Chris Webber, who had 18 points and 11 rebounds after missing two games with a lower back strain.
The 76ers will look to continue their timely hot streak when they travel to Miami, where they have lost four straight.
“We know it’s crunch time and that each and every game is like a playoff game for us,” said 76ers forward Steven Hunter, whose team will play three of its final four games away from home. “We want to show Chicago that we want (a playoff spot) more than they do. We’ve got to play with the same urgency and focus that we’ve had in the last few games and we should be OK.”
Shaquille O’Neal recorded his second career triple-double in Miami’s 106-97 win over Toronto on Tuesday. The Heat center, whose other triple-double came on Nov. 20, 1993 when he played for the Orlando Magic, had 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in 28 minutes.
“I’ve been a very unselfish player,” O’Neal said. “I knew they were going to double, so I just wanted to keep my guys involved. I learned a long time ago that if I can keep my other guys involved, it’ll be an easier game for me. I just kept making the good pass and my teammates were making me look good.”
The Southeast Division champions looked good as a whole, shooting 53 percent from the field and outrebounding the Raptors 44-31. Miami can clinch the No. 2 seed in the East with a win Friday or a loss by the Nets.
Antoine Walker, who had a combined 16 points in the last three games, broke out of his slump with a season-high 32 points against the Raptors. Reserve Jason Kapono added 17 points for the Heat, who played without star guard Dwyane Wade, out with a flu-like virus. Wade will return to the lineup Friday.
Miami is 3-4 in its last seven games.