PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The 76ers took a long tumble from the top of the Atlantic Division to eighth place in the East.
They have to hope the wins start coming in bunches again.
Because if the losses keep piling up, not only will a 20-9 start be wasted, the Sixers will miss the playoffs.
Gerald Green scored 23 points, and Kris Humphries had 18 points and 13 rebounds to lead New Jersey to a 95-89 win over Philadelphia on Friday night, three nights after the Sixers thumped the Nets by 19 points.
Philadelphia snapped a two-game winning streak and suffered a big blow in its push up the Eastern Conference standings. The 76ers fell to eighth with the loss and New York’s win, and play six of their final seven games on the road. This was a game they could not afford to lose.
The Sixers have not won three straight games since March 7-11.
“Wow,” coach Doug Collins said. “I did not see that coming, the way we played the last couple of games.”
The Nets again felt at home on the road and outscored the Sixers 32-23 in the fourth quarter. Deron Williams had 11 points and 10 assists, MarShon Brooks scored 22 points and Jordan Williams had 13. New Jersey’s 13 road wins are four more than they have at home. The Nets have won seven of 11.
“No feeling sorry for ourselves tonight,” New Jersey coach Avery Johnson said. “We played hard. We were locked into this game at shootaround.”
Jrue Holiday led the Sixers with 19 points, Evan Turner had 18 and Thaddeus Young 13. The Sixers (31-28) hold a two-game lead over the Milwaukee Bucks (29-30) for the final playoff spot in the East. The Knicks also are 31-28, but hold the tiebreaker for seventh.
“We’re going to have to step up as a team and not fear it,” forward Elton Brand said. “This is an exciting time. Let’s keep playing, let’s keep getting it together.”
For a team with so much at stake, the Sixers slogged out the first three quarters, missing a flurry of shots in the paint. In front of one of the thinnest crowds of the season, the Sixers lacked energy and again struggled to get to the free-throw line. They’re playing without the cohesion and team-first attitude that carried them to the fast start. For example, Brand had the hot hand early with eight points in the first — and didn’t score again.
“We can’t play around with a team and not have a sense of urgency with a team down 10 points when we’re playing for playoff positioning and they’re not,” Brand said.
The Sixers were 11 1/2-point favorites, yet trailed 66-63 entering the fourth.
The Nets were content to take over from there. Green buried three 3-pointers and Brooks hit a backbreaker late in the game to squash Philadelphia’s comeback bid.
In a game with 17 ties, Williams completed a three-point play with 4:11 left to give the Nets an 83-80 lead. But again the Nets failed to hang on to the lead and it looked like the Sixers might have the feel-good win they badly needed.
New Jersey wouldn’t let it happen. Green buried a 3 with 1:41 left and a 90-85 lead. Brooks hit the last of New Jersey’s six 3-pointers to finish off the Sixers.
“I’ve been thinking a little too much the last couple of weeks, not making shots and everything,” Brooks said. “D. Williams has been talking to me about it. He’s like, `Just shoot the ball. If you miss it, you miss it.”‘
Good advice. Brooks was 9 of 15 from the floor.
Both teams shot 34 of 81 from the floor. The free throws were almost identical — Philly was 20 of 27; New Jersey 21 of 27. The difference came beyond the arc, where the Sixers missed nine of 10 3s. Andre Iguodala and Jodie Meeks each went 0 for 3.
“I’m just at a loss, I really am,” Collins said.
Even with playoffs out of reach, the Nets are hardly a team with no direction: They’re heading to New York. The NBA’s Board of Governors unanimously approved the relocation of the Nets to Brooklyn on Friday.
“I know we’re all looking forward to being a part of Brooklyn and being a part of that project,” Johnson said. “I think it’s going to help. We’re the only team that’s in transition like we are. There’s a lot of energy and anticipation of us moving there.”
NOTES: Will Smith, who owns a stake in the 76ers, was at the game. … Collins, a former broadcaster, will call basketball games for NBC during the Olympics. Collins was part of the 1972 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team that was denied a gold medal following a hotly debated finish against the Soviet Union. Collins declined to say if Olympians should be paid. “Regardless of whether they’re paid or not, I know they’re going over for one thing, and that’s to win,” he said.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)