The scuffling Philadelphia 76ers could surprisingly soon find themselves on the outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Their upcoming efforts against the New Jersey Nets could go a long way toward determining whether they ultimately stay in.
Road-weary Philadelphia tries to avoid a fifth consecutive defeat Tuesday night as it faces New Jersey in the first of three matchups over a two-week stretch.
The 76ers (29-27) held a three-game lead in the Atlantic Division about a month ago, but have since dropped into a seventh-place tie with New York for the final two postseason berths in the East. With the Knicks on a roll and ninth-place Milwaukee looming right behind, Philadelphia needs to pick up the pace if it hopes to stay in the race.
The 76ers have been limited to an average of 83.0 points and 41.8 percent shooting during their skid, which reached four with a 103-79 road loss to division-leading Boston on Sunday. Elton Brand was limited to six points and Spencer Hawes had two as Philadelphia was outscored 59-41 over the second and third quarters.
"We are tied with the Knicks and they have the tiebreaker," Brand said. "Definitely bad right now and we need to get out of this slump."
The 76ers, losers of four straight and 11 of 14 on the road, play eight of their final 10 in opposing arenas - a stretch during which they'll see plenty of the Nets (21-37). These teams meet again Friday in Philadelphia before closing their season series April 23 at the Prudential Center.
While the 76ers might have originally been looking forward to what seemed like a softer portion of their schedule, facing New Jersey three times from here on out may not be easy.
The Nets had dropped eight straight to the 76ers before pulling out a 97-90 road win Jan. 25 behind 34 points and 11 assists from Deron Williams.New Jersey, winner of five of seven overall and a season-high three in a row at home, is coming off a 122-117 overtime victory over Cleveland on Sunday.
Williams had 18 points and 10 assists while Kris Humphries scored 16 to go along with 11 rebounds, but it was reserves Gerald Green and Anthony Morrow who shined brightest. Green scored a season-high 32 points and Morrow had 24 as the duo went 8 of 14 from 3-point range.
Signed as a free agent out of the D-League in late February, Green has provided a huge scoring boost for New Jersey, averaging 12.7 points and shooting 50.5 percent. He has six games of 20 or more points.
"When I'm on the floor, everyone's attention has to be on them. It makes my life a whole lot easier. I tend to get a lot of open shots," Green said.
"If I have an open shot and I don't take it, my teammates get down on me. They all tell me to be aggressive and take those shots."
Green should be in line for more key minutes with Gerald Wallace uncertain after suffering a strained left hamstring Sunday. Wallace came in averaging 17.6 points and 8.2 boards in his previous five games.
New Jersey has won 10 of its last 13 when allowing 100 or fewer points.