Updated: Dec. 28, 2005, 1:53 AM ET

Nets beat the LeBrons for No. 7

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The hottest team in the NBA other than the Detroit Pistons had a smiling seven-year-old boy taking part in the T-shirt toss between the third and fourth quarters, T.J. Kidd's reward for bringing home straight A's on his report card.

His dad's team is getting similar grades.

Led by another standout performance by Richard Jefferson, the New Jersey Nets won their seventh straight game Tuesday night with an impressive 96-91 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Both teams entered with six-game winning streaks, but only one emerged with its confidence intact.

"They have the second-best record in the East, and we're the team trying to get where they are," said Jason Kidd, who barely missed his 69th career triple double with 14 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.

Jefferson, who was 8-for-8 the previous night against New York, shot 9-for-11 to help make up for a rare subpar shooting night from Vince Carter, who was 5-for-19.

Jefferson's line all but negated LeBron James' 31 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists for the Cavs, whose record against plus-.500 teams dropped to 9-7.

New Jersey has built its winning streak with a series of wins over mostly mediocre competition, though it did include a decisive victory over Miami and a home victory over the Clippers. The five-point margin of victory over the Cavs was the closest game the Nets have played during winning streak, though the game was not as close as the final score indicated. New Jersey led by as many as 18 in the fourth quarter before a late Cleveland rally came up short.

"They outworked us, outhustled us and outscrapped us, did everything they needed to build a lead and sustain a lead," said Cleveland coach Mike Brown, who acknowledged that Cleveland's six-game winning streak may have bred some of the same complacency that overtook the Cavs following their eight-game win streak earlier this season. "Right now we're still a team trying to find an identity."

The Nets' chances of getting their streak into double digits figure to be strong. Their next two games are at home against Atlanta and Orlando before they play Toronto on the road. Cleveland has another measurement game next, facing the 23-3 Pistons -- winners of eight straight -- on Saturday afternoon.

"We need to approach games on the road like we do games at home, which is very difficult for any team in this league. Once we get to that point we'll be much better, and that's something we need to work on," James said.

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Dimes Past: December 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24-25 | 27

Welcome Back!

Manu Ginobili returned for San Antonio and immediately gave his slumping team -- and the fans -- a spark, generating the third-quarter run that led the Spurs, who trailed the Indiana Pacers at halftime, to a 99-86 win.

Artest's Punch

If you'd asked the Indiana Pacers in October where they expected to be at this point, "tied with Milwaukee for third place" probably wouldn't have been the answer.

Yet that's where Indiana finds itself after Tuesday's 99-86 defeat in San Antonio. The Pacers are already a whopping eight games behind their supposed rivals from Detroit.

The Ron Artest situation obviously has hurt Indiana, but not in the way you might imagine.

Despite Artest's absence, the Pacers continue to be a ferocious defensive team. In fact, entering Tuesday's play, Indiana ranked first in the NBA in Defensive Efficiency, my measure of points allowed per possession.

However, losing Artest's guaranteed 20 points a night has taken its toll offensively. Tuesday's contest was the sixth time in their 10 games without Artest that the Pacers failed to net 90 points -- something that happened just three times in the 16 games with Artest playing.

Fortunately, help appears to be on the way. With the Pacers reportedly close to completing a deal for their disgruntled forward, Indiana soon could have the replacement scoring punch that it so desperately needs to stay in contention in the East.

-- John Hollinger

NBA News And Notes
Emeka Okafor (ankle) and Kareem Rush (finger) have each missed three straight games for the Bobcats. Sean May (knee) and Jake Voskuhl (ankle) didn't play, either. ...

Two games after his career-high 26 points at Miami, Atlanta rookie Marvin Williams, the No. 2 overall draft pick, has scored just two points with seven rebounds and seven fouls in his last 34-plus minutes. ...

Morris Peterson played his 417th game with the Raptors, tying Alvin Williams' franchise record, and his 306th straight game, extending the NBA's longest active streak. ...

The Raptors tied an NBA low with three turnovers. ...

Tracy McGrady scored the game's first basket, giving the Rockets their first lead in three games. ...

Houston is the only team that's held each of its opponents below 50 percent shooting. The Jazz finished 23-of-66 (35 percent). ...

Matt Harpring, Utah's third-leading scorer, missed his fifth game this season as he recovers from offseason knee surgery. The Jazz beat Memphis on Monday and Utah coach Jerry Sloan said Harpring will continue to sit out the second of back-to-back games until his knee heals.

Duncan had been wearing his hair long this season, but on Tuesday he was cropped close to the scalp and had shaved his beard. ...

The Spurs made 11 of their 21 free throws in the first three quarters, but went 11-for-13 at the line in the fourth. ...

The Pacers' Austin Croshere played only 10 minutes, 16 fewer than his average, and scored two points.

The Clippers, who entered with a league-leading free throw percentage of .799, were 15-for-20 from the line after converting all 22 attempts in Friday's 97-88 win at Charlotte -- their best showing since the franchise moved to California. ...

This is the first time since Feb. 23, 1993, that the teams have faced each other with the Clippers having a winning record and Sacramento a losing one.

-- Associated Press


This dunk by reigning slam champ Josh Smith had no significance in the Charlotte-Atlanta game. It was just pretty.

Extreme Behavior

Tuesday's Best
Chris Webber, 76ers forward: Hard to play much better than Webber: 15-for-22 FGs, 15 boards, seven assists, 32 points in a 108-106 win at Denver. Runners up: Chris Bosh, career-high 37; Carmelo Anthony, career-high 45.


Tuesday's Worst
Marvin Williams, Hawks forward: Even at just 19, Williams is too talented to play only 10 minutes, go scoreless and collect only one rebound on a night when the visiting Bobcats' front line is depleted. Result: Charlotte 93, Atlanta 90.

Quote of the Day
"He should be OK, but we felt he'll take enough hits on Thursday."
-- Detroit coach Flip Saunders, on removing Ben Wallace, who got five stitches after a third-quarter elbow in the lip from teammate Antonio McDyess. The Pistons face Shaquille O'Neal and the Heat on Thursday.

See how all 159 who played stacked up

-- Royce Webb

Everybody Likes Ike

Ohad (Oakland): What's going on with the Warriors? Their defense is just coming up flat, though Mickael Pietrus' absence hurts. Do the Warriors need Ron Artest to get over the top, and will that happen?

Marc Stein: This is a team that hasn't been mentioned much in regards to Artest, but the Warriors can be a major player if they choose to dive into the mix.

They have a lot of intriguing young pieces to get the Pacers interested, and you mentioned one of them: Pietrus.

Indy, though, would ask for Ike Diogu first and Diogu, I'm told, is a virtually untouchable.

Keep your eye on these guys, though. Mully was a big risk-taker at the deadline in February to bring Baron in, and he has the assets to do it again.

But, like every GM, he's asking himself if the potential rewards are worth the risk. The fears about Baron were health-related. The problem with Artest is that you go to bed every night not knowing what he's going to say or do the next day.

Full Marc Stein chat transcript Insider

Elias Says

Tracy McGrady scored 21 points and had five assists in the first half, and then left the arena to join his fiancée, who had gone into labor.

It was only the second time in his two seasons with Houston that T-Mac had a 20-5 first half.

Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias Insider

Clips Good, But ...

Chris (IN): What can the Clippers do to push them to the level of getting to be a tough team in the playoffs and possibly to the Finals? Can it happen this year?

Jim O'Brien: The fact that the Clippers have been consistently at the top of the league in defensive field-goal percentage is a good place to start.

They have so many weapons on offense that they are going to scare some people, but it will be hard for them to get to that championship level without a bonafide superstar. Brand is having a great year but he is no Duncan.

Full Jim O'Brien chat transcript Insider

Return To Sender
John Hollinger breaks down the season's worst acquisitions:

Rafer Alston for Mike James
Think the Rockets wouldn't mind undoing this trade?

Of all the many maladies to hit Houston this year -- T-Mac's back, Yao's toe, Jon Barry's calf, Stromile Swift's brain -- perhaps the most damaging was the self-inflicted wound created by the trade of Mike James for Alston.

It didn't help any when Alston joined his Houston brethren in the trainer's room with a stress fracture, but even prior to that injury this trade was a dud. Alston looked miscast as a catch-and-shoot guy in Houston's structured offense, while James' scoring has been one of the few bright spots north of the border.

The slumping, punchless Rockets wouldn't be nearly so moribund had they kept an energizer such as James in tow.

See Hollinger's full column Insider



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