No way the New Jersey Nets could lose another close one. Not the way the New York Knicks bungled away the closing minutes.
Devin Harris had 35 points and 10 assists, and the Nets ended a frustrating stretch of narrow defeats by edging the Knicks 106-101 on Sunday.
Vince Carter added 25 points for the Nets, who had lost three of four, failing to pull out tight games against New Orleans, Boston and Orlando. This time they made the plays down the stretch, while the Knicks melted down amid an ugly combination of missed shots and turnovers in the final 2 1/2 minutes.
"We've been playing good basketball for about seven games now," Harris said. "We haven't always played perfectly at the end. Tonight it was our turn. We got stops when we needed to."
Brook Lopez's bucket inside gave New Jersey a 100-99 lead, then Harris took Larry Hughes' turnover the other way for an uncontested layup with none of the Knicks scurrying back on defense, making it a three-point game with 1:15 to go.
Harris and Bobby Simmons each added a pair of free throws in the final seconds after empty New York possessions. The Knicks missed four straight shots and committed three turnovers following Lopez's go-ahead bucket.
"We didn't make some shots and obviously we turned the ball over in key situations and they made plays at the end," said Hughes, who seemed more interested in arguing with the referee then running back after Simmons knocked the ball away from him.
David Lee had 19 points and 14 rebounds for the Knicks, who opened a five-game trip with their fifth loss in six games. Nate Robinson scored 17 points and fellow reserve Danilo Gallinari added 15.
"It was a tough game. It's our whole mentality. We have to get better as a team. We're not quite good enough yet," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I thought we did a good job. They're playing hard. They are trying. They've just got to learn to move the ball and execute and get a little bit better defensively."
Lopez finished with 16 points in the final game before both teams leave the New York area for a while. The Knicks move on to Milwaukee, while the Nets face their own five-game trip, with the first four out West before closing at New York on March 18 _ the Knicks' next home game.
"Every game is pivotal. We have to win every game possible," Harris said. "A lot of guys here haven't been to the playoffs. It feels like that now. We have to bring that type of intensity every night. The effort has been there. We just have to finish the games off."
The Knicks might be out of the playoff race by then. They are 7-22 on the road and fell 3 1/2 games behind eighth-place Chicago for the final spot in the Eastern Conference.
New Jersey is in better shape, a game back of the Bulls and confident in the way it's playing. The Nets could be on a seven-game winning streak had a couple of plays gone the other way in the losses to the Hornets (three points), Celtics (four) and Magic (three).
"We've been in a lot of situations these past six games, three, four-point games late, up and down, trying to play catch-up, giving ourselves a chance to win," Carter said. "We haven't pulled them out. So for us to pull it out, it's refreshing."
Carter limped off after banging knees with Gallinari trying to fight through a screen with 4:39 remaining. Hughes hit a wide-open 3-pointer after Carter fell to tie it at 96, and Gallinari's 3 gave the Knicks their last lead at 99-98 with 2:49 remaining.
But down 102-99, they couldn't get it back to Gallinari for a tying shot, with Wilson Chandler and Hughes missing 3-point attempts instead.
"When they missed those 3s right in front of us, I was going to tackle someone," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "We made some big defensive plays when we needed to and some big steals that led to easy baskets."
The Knicks made 11 of 17 shots in the first quarter (65 percent) and were ahead 30-27 going to the second. New York took a 57-53 halftime lead after Chris Duhon made two 3-pointers in the final 33 seconds.
New York pushed the lead to nine early in the third, but the Nets went ahead with a late 10-2 run and brought a 79-77 edge to the fourth.
Notes:@ Knicks center Eddy Curry, who has missed all but 3 minutes of the season because of knee problems, worked out before the game and said he was feeling good and his swelling was down. However, he said he still won't be ready to play until he has some more practice. "Right now, this second, I don't feel like I can go out there and play," he said before the game. "But keep working hard, go in tomorrow early, get some extra work done, see what happens. See if I can get in a game on this road trip if the opportunity presents itself." ... The Nets celebrated "An Evening of Chinese Culture." Starting lineups were announced in Mandarin, and China's Yi Jianlian thanked the crowd before the tip.
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