(AP) — Over the past two weeks, the Philadelphia 76ers have steadily climbed from last place in the Eastern Conference into the playoff mix.

Their turnaround began with a win over the New Jersey Nets, the East’s current last-place team.

The 76ers look to win for the sixth time in eight games Tuesday night when they visit the Nets, losers of seven in a row.

Philadelphia (8-15) entered its home contest against New Jersey on Nov. 27 having won just three of its first 16 games. The first meeting was tied through three quarters before the 76ers pulled away late to win 102-86, their fifth straight victory in the series. Philadelphia hasn’t won six straight over the Nets since March 23, 1979-March 21, 1980.

Jrue Holiday led the way with 20 points and 13 assists, while Andre Iguodala added 16 points for the Sixers, who won for the second time in 10 games.

Philadelphia has won four of six since, however, to move into 10th place in the East, not far behind eighth-place Milwaukee.

“We just trying to find a good rhythm,” Iguodala said after Sunday’s 88-70 victory over New Orleans. “The guys are starting to believe in themselves. As long as we continue to play the right style of basketball, we’ll have success.”

Philadelphia’s defense has keyed the team’s surge, allowing an average of 88.3 points in the last seven games after yielding 101.8 points in the first 16. This improved defense has led to convincing victories, with the Sixers winning their last five by an average of 16.2 points.

Philadelphia completely frustrated the Hornets on Sunday, limiting them to 23 first-half points, and the fewest total points scored by an opponent since holding Milwaukee to 69 on Jan. 30, 2008.

“Our defense has been terrific,” Sixers coach Doug Collins said.

Philadelphia’s defense could pose problems for New Jersey, which is averaging 88.2 points in its last five games.

The Nets (6-18) bounced back from their loss in Philadelphia two weeks ago to beat Portland the following night, but have lost seven straight since.

New Jersey played well against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday and had a chance to win, but after tying the game at 85 with 4:54 to play, the team missed 14 of its last 17 shots and ended up losing 99-92.

“They executed and we didn’t,” Nets guard Devin Harris said. “We missed a ton of shots at the rim, shots we normally make just didn’t go down for us.”

Harris finished with 16 points and 10 assists despite leaving in the first quarter of Thursday’s loss to Dallas with a shoulder injury. He had 19 points against the 76ers last month.

Brook Lopez led the Nets with 25 points in that game, and also finished with 25 points against the Lakers. The 7-foot center has scored at least 24 points in each of his last three games after combining for 18 points in his previous two.

Updated December 13, 2010
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