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Nets' fading postseason hopes stay alive on Carter's big night

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- No matter how much his right ankle hurts, Vince Carter is going to give the New Jersey Nets everything he can as long as they still have playoff hopes.

A day after the ankle prevented him from playing against Detroit, Carter returned to the lineup and scored 32 points to lead the Nets to a 99-90 victory over the struggling Toronto Raptors on Saturday night.

"This means a lot to me, just to be able to finish the season," Carter said. "I consider myself one of the veterans and one of the leaders of this team, and I'm setting the bar and fighting through the end of the season. You never know. I'm playing to win and finish the season strong."

Despite ending a four-game losing streak, the Nets' magic number for being eliminated from postseason contention was reduced to two when Atlanta beat Philadelphia earlier Saturday.

Any combination of Nets' losses or Hawks' wins totaling two will eliminate New Jersey from postseason contention for the first time in seven years.

"We're not quite mathematically out," said Carter, who scored 21 second-half points on 8-of-11 shooting. "Maybe we are counted out, that doesn't mean we don't come out hard and compete each and every night."

Carter admitted the ankle hurts and that it might require surgery after the season.

"It feels better than yesterday," he said. "I am going to fight through it and get it done."

Richard Jefferson added 28 points and Devin Harris had 12 points and seven assists as the Nets won for only the fourth time in 11 games.

"Pride is a factor every night," Jefferson said. "We're a prideful group, including myself. It's not like we win and we show pride. If we weren't able to get the win tonight, it's not that we don't care. Every night we are coming out and trying to give it our all."

Rasho Nesterovic had 22 points and 14 rebounds to lead the playoff-bound Raptors, who lost their third straight and 11th in 15 games. Chris Bosh added 18 points for Toronto, which had all five starters score in double figures. The bench contributed 13 points on 6-of-22 shooting.

"You never want to go into the playoffs not playing your best basketball, and we definitely have been far from that," guard Anthony Parker said. "It's just a matter of getting it going our way quick."

The Raptors didn't arrive at the Izod Arena until an hour before the game because of traffic coming from New York City, and it took them a couple of quarters to get going.

New Jersey led by as many as 10 points in the first quarter, eight at the half and by two going into the final quarter.

Carter, who also added seven rebounds and five assists, then took over. He scored on four of the Nets' first five possessions, starting it with a finger-roll in the lane, before adding two free throws and two jumpers. Marcus Williams followed the second jumper with a 3-pointer and New Jersey suddenly was ahead 89-78 with 8:11 to play.

"It says a lot about him as a person," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "When you look at his ankle, it is very swollen. He had every opportunity to sit it out, if not shut it down, yet he continues to fight. Vince is a first-class person."

Game notes
For the second time in a week, the game was delayed in the second quarter by a shredded net. ... Jamario Moon made his 70th start, tying Damon Stoudamire (1995-96) for the Raptors rookie record. ... Nesterovic has scored in double figures in 14 straight games. ... Nets backup C DeSagana Diop was inactive with a knee injury. ... Backup Raptors G Jose Calderon picked up four fouls in the second quarter. ... Toronto, which came into the game leading the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage (39.8 percent), was 3-of-22 from long range (13.6 percent).