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68° Good Morning

Nets trying to focus on improving their play

Paul Pierce, center, drives between Oklahoma City Thunder

Paul Pierce, center, drives between Oklahoma City Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha, left, and forward Kevin Durant in the first quarter on Jan. 2, 2014. Credit: AP / Sue Ogrocki

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Things still haven't reached the point where they can fully burrow out of their hole like a groundhog, and forecast whether there will be six more weeks of frustrating times.

So instead of the Nets setting their sights on chasing down the Raptors as they close in on the All-Star break, they have their pupils fixed on smaller things.

There are no magic numbers they've devised among themselves on how many victories needed to overtake the Atlantic Division leaders. With these split-personality, injury-plagued times of theirs, the Nets (23-26) aren't in much of a position to think long and hard about playoff positioning, anyway.

"Truthfully, winning the division hasn't even come up," Paul Pierce said Tuesday. "So it's all about growing, playing better basketball right now. I think first you've got to get over .500 before we start talking about winning the division. Then you can talk about raising your goals up."

That's why the next two games could be crucial for the Nets, given what lies down the road starting next week. Wednesday night's game against the Bobcats is the Nets' lone contest at Barclays Center until March 3, triggering a string of seven straight road games sandwiched around the All-Star break.

There's a six-game, 12-day swing mostly composed of stops on the other side of the Rockies, and the Nets also play the Bulls in Chicago Thursday, no easy feat with the Nets' 2-9 mark in the second game of back-to-backs.

In short, they know they need to take care of business.

"It's huge for us at this point," Joe Johnson said following a few practice warm-up rounds for this weekend's three-point contest in New Orleans. "These are two games that we desperately need because the second half of the season is important. This West Coast trip that we have coming up could be the tale of our season. So I think you only got 30 some odd games left after the All-Star break and we got to come back prepared and ready."

Deron Williams, averaging 12.4 points and 5.6 assists in his last eight games while battling recurring ankle injuries, said: "I just want to get healthy, man. If I get healthy, I know what can happen."

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