EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Everybody laughed at the Nets when they were 2-15. People still chuckle when the words "New Jersey" and "playoffs" are mentioned in the same sentence.
Well, get a load of this: The Nets are just two games out of a playoff spot after beating the Milwaukee Bucks 92-90 in overtime Saturday.
"This was a great game to win. It was a have-to win," Stephon Marbury said. "We're still holding our breath. When we get even with everybody, then we can come up for air."
Lucious Harris scored seven of New Jersey's final 10 points, and the Nets -- despite missing three of four free throws in the final 10.2 seconds of overtime -- moved within one game of the Bucks (31-35) and Orlando (31-35) in the loss column in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
New Jersey improved to 3-0 against Milwaukee, giving the Nets the tiebreaker edge should the teams finish the regular season with the same record. New Jersey, still in 11th place in the conference, also owns the tiebreaker advantage over Orlando.
"It's nice to have the tiebreaker on Orlando and Milwaukee, but we have to catch them first," Harris said. "Then it will make a difference."
Even thinking about the playoffs seemed ridiculous for the Nets back in early December as they stumbled to their pitiful start, but they are 26-21 since then and have now won four straight -- all against teams with superior records.
Of New Jersey's remaining 18 games, 13 are against teams currently holding playoff spots.
Keith Van Horn scored 27 points and Marbury had 19 for the Nets. Tim Thomas led Milwaukee with 23.
New Jersey had two chances to all but lock up the victory late in overtime, but Van Horn, an 84-percent free throw, missed the second of two foul shots with 10.2 seconds left to leave the Nets ahead 92-90. Nets forward Jamie Feick tipped the missed free throw to Kendall Gill, who was fouled with 7.3 seconds left.
Gill, a 72-percent foul shooter, missed both to give the Bucks one last chance to go for the tie or win. Inbounding with 5.7 seconds left, Milwaukee got the ball to Sam Cassell for a 3-pointer that was off target just before the buzzer.
"I wasn't ready for the ball. I was looking at the shot clock," Cassell said. "I finally got the ball, I was trying to regroup. The ball bounced out and I lost my balance. The result was a missed shot."
Harris finished with just eight points, two of which came on free throws with 16.5 seconds left in regulation to give the Nets an 84-82 lead. Thomas followed with a drive around Van Horn for a layup that tied it with 12.7 seconds left.
The Nets had a chance to win, but Marbury missed on a drive with two seconds left.
Harris scored five of the Nets' first seven points of overtime on two free throws and a 3-pointer. The latter gave the Nets a 91-90 lead with 2:29 left, and the Bucks would not score again as they missed their final three shots and committed a turnover.
Marbury also had a chance to give the Nets a three-point lead late in overtime, but his drive was blocked by Darvin Ham and the ball went out of bounds off Marbury to give Milwaukee possession with 20 seconds left.
Thomas got isolated again one-on-one against Van Horn but missed a short jumper, and Van Horn was fouled on the rebound.
"We were extremely rusty, but we gutted it out and at the end it was our defense and the ball bouncing our way that made the difference," Gill said.
After three turnover-filled, poor-shooting quarters, both teams turned it up a notch in the fourth period and overtime to produce an entertaining final 17 minutes.
Ham had a dunk early in the fourth quarter to start the Bucks on an 8-0 run that gave them a 65-61 lead. Marbury made two free throws with 2:53 left to give the Nets their first lead since early in the fourth quarter, 76-75, but Ray Allen scored on a driving left-handed layup to give the Bucks an 82-78 lead with 1:36 remaining.
Marbury then drove through three defenders for a layup that turned into a three-point play with 55 seconds left, and after a loose ball foul on Ervin Johnson, his sixth, Feick made one of two free throws to tie the game at 82-82 with 38 seconds left in regulation.
Notes: Milwaukee has lost 14 of its last 19 games and five straight on the road. ... The Bucks dropped to 1-3 in overtime games. ... The Nets are 19-3 at the Meadowlands since losing nine of their first 10 home games. ... Jayson Williams, who broke his foot in practice Wednesday, did not attend the game. ... Ham has made 27 field goals this season, 15 of which have been dunks. The rest have been layups or tip-ins. ... Gilligan (Bob Denver) and Mary Ann (Dawn Wells) attended the game.
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