Red-hot Nets torch Hawks

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The New Jersey Nets won their 13th straight game, holding off Atlanta for a 96-94 victory on a night when they also clinched their fourth Atlantic Division title in the last five years .

Vince Carter scored 27 points for the Nets, who tied Dallas for the longest winning streak in the NBA this season and moved to within one of the franchise record set in 2003-2004. The division title was actually sealed with second-place Philadelphia’s 124-91 loss to Cleveland earlier Tuesday.

Atlanta (22-51), which cut a 23-point fourth-quarter deficit to one point, lost for the 12th time in 14 games. Joe Johnson scored 33 points to lead the Hawks.

The Nets appeared on their way to an easy victory after shooting 12-for-15 in the third quarter and taking an 80-57 lead early in the fourth. But the Hawks went on a 24-2 run, led by eight points by Anthony Grundy, to cut the gap to 82-81.

Carter answered with a 3-pointer to give the Nets a four-point cushion with a little more than five minutes left, but Atlanta crept to within a basket at 89-87 on Josh Smith’s free throw with 1:37 left.

Carter then made three free throws after being fouled while shooting a 3-pointer by Donta Smith with 1:25 left to make it 92-87, and Nenad Krstic’s two free throws made it 94-87. Five straight points by Johnson cut the lead to two again, but he committed an offensive foul with 8.9 seconds left to spoil the Hawks’ last chance.

Richard Jefferson and Krstic scored 17 points each for New Jersey and Jason Kidd had 11 points and 13 assists.

New Jersey led by eight at halftime and maintained a lead that fluctuated between 10 and 14 points for most of the third quarter until they scored the final nine points of the period to take a 78-57 lead into the final 12 minutes.

They closed with a flourish as Jacque Vaughn fed Zoran Planinic with a behind-the-back pass for a layup and Planinic penetrated and found center Krstic for a long jumper at the buzzer.

The Nets sailed to a 22-9 lead in the first quarter, holding the Hawks without a point for 4:42. They stretched the lead to 35-21 in the second quarter before Atlanta cut the lead to seven late in the period.

Johnson was nearly unstoppable for Atlanta in the first half with 18 points on 6-for-7 shooting, but no other Atlanta player had more than five points. Both teams shot under 40 percent for the first 24 minutes.

Notes Carter reached the 20-point mark for the 18th straight game, tying a club record … Nets coach Lawrence Frank on winning the division title: “It’s a very noble achievement. It speaks a lot about those guys in the locker room. We’ve been able to get it done four of five years since Jason’s been here, turning around the whole franchise.” … The Hawks played without C Zaza Pachulia (flu), G Josh Childress (ankle sprain) and F Marvin Williams (attending to personal matters) … For the second straight game, the 7-foot Krstic got out ahead of the pack on a fast-break and dunked.

AP-ES-04-04-06 2217EDT

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