ORLANDO, Fla. - They've spent the better part of the last seven weeks treading water feverishly, seemingly going under a few times and gasping for air once they resurfaced.
So why should Friday night have been any different?
After being tossed a life preserver, the Nets nearly took a screwdriver and plunged a gaping hole in it, evoking thoughts of a potential nightmare.
They almost coughed up a 26-point third-quarter advantage over the Magic, needing two free throws by Joe Johnson with 22 seconds remaining to seal a 100-98 victory at Amway Center that elevated them to the .500 mark for the first time since Nov. 15.
This one wasn't truly over until Jarrett Jack flung the ball up toward the rafters with a little more than two seconds left and it came down out of bounds in front of the Nets' bench. The Nets (16-16) barely outlasted scrappy Orlando, escaping with their third straight win and sixth in their last seven games.
"They kept playing through everything," Jack said. "I thought we kind of played the score a little bit, not being as aggressive as we were to get the lead that we had gotten. So it's a lesson learned."
The Nets -- who were paced by Mason Plumlee's 18 points and nine rebounds along with 16 points each from high-priced reserves Deron Williams and Brook Lopez -- went ahead 86-60 on Williams' three-pointer with 36.8 seconds left in the third quarter.
But Elfrid Payton and Ben Gordon totaled 26 points in the fourth quarter and Orlando shot 14-for-23 in the quarter, cashing eight Nets turnovers into 12 points.
After the Magic fell behind 95-71 with 8:16 left, a 24-3 run brought Orlando within 98-95 with 1:04 to play. But Evan Fournier rushed up a potential tying three-pointer with 26 seconds remaining that clanked off the side of the rim, and the Nets made just enough plays at the end to pull it out.
Johnson's two free throws gave the Nets a 100-95 lead before Payton sank a three-pointer with 3.8 seconds left.
"Honestly, what went through our mind was the game was in hand. We've got a win," Plumlee said. "That's clearly not the way to approach the fourth quarter. It's not a good way to end the game any way you look at it."
Here's how well things worked for the Nets through the initial 36 minutes: Even Kevin Garnett drained a three-pointer in the third quarter, his first for the Nets, who scored 34 points in the quarter.
"Shout-out to Rasheed Wallace," Garnett said. "He's always on my [expletive] about shooting threes. I told him that's what got him out of the league, so I haven't been shooting too many. But today, people don't know I work on my game every day. Shooting threes is part of my routine. I got it, I shot it and I made it."
All those feel-good things the Nets accomplished in the first three quarters were almost rendered moot. The good ball movement. The solid play of Williams and Lopez. A gritty defensive effort.
"Every win is great for us because we are moving up in the standings and putting distance between the teams behind us," said Williams, who had seven assists. "And that's what we've got to continue to do."