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Hawks lose to New Jersey, lose one-game lead in race for playoffs
Atlanta Hawks’ Josh Smith, left, and Josh Childress, right, team up to block a shot by New Jersey Nets’ Richard Jefferson on Wednesday during the second quarter in East Rutherford, N.J. - photo by The Associated Press

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Whatever it takes, Vince Carter has decided to take the New Jersey Nets to the playoffs.

Facing a must-win game with Atlanta on Wednesday night, Carter had a season-high 39 points and 10 rebounds and carried the Nets into a tie with the Hawks for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a 125-117 victory.

"We laid an egg last night, as far as energy and effort," Carter said, referring to a bad loss in Chicago.

"I just wanted to put my mark on the game in the beginning tonight, whatever that meant. I wanted to be aggressive and make plays."

Carter, who blew on his fingers after shots to show the crowd how hot he was, hit 17 of 26 shots from the field and added eight assists in more than 43 minutes of action.

"That was vintage Vince Carter," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "He was phenomenal."

Richard Jefferson added 33 points and Devin Harris had a career-high 26 points and nine assists despite playing on a sprained ankle as the Nets had a season-high point total in winning for eighth time in the last 10 home games.

"Vince had a great game," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "You can’t take anything away. He played at a high level. Jefferson played at a high level, as well as Harris. They had three key guys that really made shots."

New Jersey also won the season-series with Atlanta 3-1, which means it has the tiebreaker should they finish tied. Both teams (29-39) have 14 games left.

"These last games, there are no excuses," said Jefferson, who was 10 of 17 from the field. "We need everybody mentally focused and ready. This was an amazing game in terms of what was at stake. There was the tiebreaker and all that stuff. Both teams fought hard."

Joe Johnson had 24 points to lead six Hawks in double figures. Rookie Al Horford added 20 points and 15 rebounds, while Josh Smith had 20 points.

"We have to tighten up," said Johnson, who was in foul trouble in the second half.

"I think they wanted it more than we did in the second half. They came out in the third, made a run and took the lead and we never recovered from that. We have to learn to go up another level."

The Nets shot almost 58 percent in the second half in rallying from a 13-point deficit. Carter and Jefferson combined for 42 points on 14 of 23 shooting.

The big run for New Jersey came late in the third quarter and early in the fourth when they outscored the Hawks 26-12. Carter had 11 in the spurt and Harris six.

Atlanta, which shot 68 percent in the first half in taking a 70-60 lead, was limited to 38 percent shooting in the second half, 15 of 40.

"We came out lackadaisical in the second half and it showed," said Mike Bibby, who added 15 points and six assists for Atlanta.

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