EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Now that the New Jersey Nets have stopped focusing on the postseason, they are starting to look like a playoff team. Too bad it's probably too late.
Vince Carter scored 15 points and the Nets kept their playoff hopes alive for a couple more days by handing the Philadelphia 76ers their worst loss of the season, 96-67 on Sunday night.
"We want to compete hard every game and give ourselves a chance," said All-Star guard Devin Harris, one of seven Nets in double figures. "We stopped paying attention to all of that. We just focused on our effort. We haven't really talked about where we are in the standings. A couple of games where we lacked effort, we might have been looking too much into that. We just need to focus on ourselves and what we can control."
The Nets (32-45) were pushed to the brink of elimination while their game was being contested when the Detroit Pistons (37-40) beat the Charlotte Bobcats 104-97. New Jersey and Detroit each have five games left. New Jersey will miss the postseason for the second successive year if it loses one or the Pistons win one.
Carter said he had no idea the Pistons won, adding the Nets' approach for the past three games has been to win every game.
"We have to play all out," Carter said. "There is no room for error. Losing that last game [Chicago on Saturday] really shortened our margin for error. You can't say: 'Oh, this one got away from us.' Every one counts now regardless of who are playing."
Sixth man Lou Williams had 14 points to lead the Sixers, who looked drained a day after beating Detroit to clinch a second straight playoff berth. The loss dropped Philadelphia a half-game behind Miami for the fifth seed in the East. The fifth seed will probably play Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs and the sixth will get either Boston or Orlando.
The 76ers had no other players in double figures in shooting 35 percent from the floor. Andre Iguodala and Andre Miller combined for 12 points on 4-for-17 shooting.
"I don't think it had anything to do with clinching the playoff berth," 76ers coach Tony DiLeo said. "Yesterday was an important game. We played both Andres more minutes than they usually play, the whole second half. Maybe that caught up to them a little bit. I don't think just because we clinched we let down. We just had nothing going tonight."
Bobby Simmons added 14 points for New Jersey, which beat the 76ers in the last game here on a last-second halfcourt shot by Harris. Brook Lopez, Harris, Jarvis Hayes and Chris Douglas-Roberts had 13 apiece.
The 67 points were a season low for Philadelphia and the 29-point loss was the worst defeat. The previous low was 72 and the highest losing margin was 24.
The 67 points also were the fewest allowed by New Jersey this season, three less than Denver scored on Feb. 7.
Philadelphia should have known it was in trouble early. The Sixers have a tradition that players on the bench stand until the team scores. The reserves didn't get a chance to sit for almost five minutes, with Willie Green ending an 0-for-9 drought with a layup with 7:08 left in the quarter.
The other problem was free throw shooting. Philadelphia went 9-for-23, with Iguodala going 3-for-8.
"We haven't had a game like this in almost two months or more," DiLeo said. "A lot of things went wrong. We couldn't really shoot the ball tonight. We couldn't make baskets or free throws. It was just one of those nights we weren't in rhythm."
Surprisingly, Philadelphia led 20-18 after the first quarter as Samuel Dalembert scored seven of his nine points and had five of his 11 rebounds.
New Jersey took control five minutes into the second quarter when Simmons and Hayes hit back-to-back 3-pointers to ignite a 21-7 spurt that put the Nets ahead 47-32.
Carter converted successive three-point plays in the run and scored eight points. Keyon Dooling (10 points) also scored five points, hitting one of the Nets' 11 3-pointers in the contest.
New Jersey led by 11 points at the half and pushed its lead to 18 points in the third quarter and blew out the 76ers in the fourth quarter.
"Offensively, I think both teams were pretty much in the mud," Miller said. "They just hit more shots than we did. That's all it was -- a bad game on our part on both ends of the floor."
New Jersey swept the four-game season series with the 76ers -- the first time it has done that to Philadelphia. ...The loss snapped a three-game Philadelphia winning streak and was only its fifth in 15 games. ...The 76ers are 6-12 in the second game of back-to-backs. They are 13-5 in the front end.