WASHINGTON -- Already in a losing funk without their two All-Stars, the last thing the Washington Wizards needed was a couple of calls to go against them in the final minute.
The New Jersey Nets beat the Wizards 96-92 Tuesday night to move within two games of sixth-place Washington in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards have lost five straight and the only consolation was that they backed into the playoffs because Indiana lost to Philadelphia.
"It's bittersweet," forward Antawn Jamison said.
More bitter than sweet this time. A ragged game that included 54 fouls and 73 free throws was essentially decided when Washington's DeShawn Stevenson drove the lane twice in the final minute and didn't draw a foul either time -- even though the officials had blown their whistles for seemingly the slightest touch all evening.
"If you don't have the right name on your back, you don't get the calls," Stevenson said. "In the end, we didn't get the calls. They got them, and you can't win a ballgame like that."
After Stevenson's first drive, Jason Kidd grabbed the rebound and started a fast break. Richard Jefferson missed the layup, but Kidd was there for a tip-in -- his only basket of the night -- that gave the Nets the lead for good with 30 seconds to play.
Vince Carter scored New Jersey's final six points with a breakaway dunk and four free throws to put away the Nets' sixth victory in eight games. They swept the season series 4-0 from Washington, giving them the tiebreaker should they catch the Wizards in the standings.
"This game is about getting stops and making shots at the right time," Kidd said, "and we did that in the fourth quarter. We've got us guys who've been in this situation, and we got very fortunate the ball bounced our way."
Jefferson finished with a season-high 35 points, Carter had 31 and Kidd finished with four points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists for the Nets, who made 25 of 29 free throws.
"We understand what it takes to win in the playoffs. We've been there," Carter said. "The three of us have to lead our team. We're two games away and we just have to get those two games. That's how I see it."
Jamison, the only one of Washington's Big Three still standing, had 26 points and 11 rebounds for the Wizards, whose magic number for the playoffs had been stuck at one since last Wednesday.
"I always say that in December and January, when we were going pretty darn good, that I always felt like I'm walking on the edge of a cliff and about to fall off," coach Eddie Jordan said. "I've been feeling that way a whole lot lately."
The Wizards' five-game skid is their longest of the season. They've yet to find a way to win without Gilbert Arenas (torn meniscus) and Caron Butler (broken hand), both of whom were injured last week and won't return unless the team advances deep into the playoffs.
But this is the first time in the losing streak that they've had a bit of that "We wuz robbed" feeling. The game was full of head-scratching calls. When Jefferson elbowed Antonio Daniels in the face during a drive to the basket in the first half, the foul was called on Daniels.
Jordan delicately tried to avoid criticizing the officials. While talking about one of Stevenson's drives at the end, the coach said, "I thought he got bumped, but the officials didn't think that, so that's the way it goes."
Added Jamison: "We thought he was fouled and everything like that, but still we need to find a way to pull it out."
The game had very little flow. Both teams settled for outside jump shots early, and the constant fouls kept them from establishing the uptempo game they prefer. The Wizards led by 10 late in the first quarter, but Jefferson scored 10 straight Nets points in the second quarter to cut into the deficit.
Jefferson's reverse layup was part of a 10-2 run that gave the Nets a 60-50 lead in the third quarter, but Jamison responded with nine points in a 12-0 spurt that made the game close again.
"We put ourselves in a position to win in the last minute of the game," Daniels said. "And the wheels just fell off."
- Carter broke his own Nets franchise record for most points in a season. He has 1,931, bettering the mark of 1,911 he set last season.
- The Wizards are 33-20 when the Big Three are healthy and 6-18 when at least one of them is out.
- The Wizards are in the playoffs for the third straight season, their longest streak since they made it five straight seasons from 1983-88.