EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Ticker) -- With the best record in the Eastern Conference no longer within their grasp, the New Jersey Nets have to focus on winning their division.
Baron Davis scored nine of his 19 points in the fourth quarter and Jamal Mashburn added 17 as the New Orleans Hornets posted an 87-74 victory over the Nets.
New Jersey lost for the third time in four games and helped the Detroit Pistons secure the best record in the Eastern Conference.
"It's been like that for the last few games," Nets guard Jason Kidd said. "We've always had something to play for, but we haven't won a game that counted. Somewhere down the line in the playoffs, we're going to have to win a game that counts."
The Nets failed to clinch their second straight Atlantic Division title and will need to win their season finale or hope for the Philadelphia 76ers to lose one of their last two games.
"We acted like the game really didn't matter," New Jersey coach Byron Scott said. "There's no way to explain it. What we're playing for, what was at stake tonight and all the things we could've accomplished. To come out and play with that type of energy, I can't find a reason for that."
New Orleans never trailed in the fourth quarter but was clinging to a 66-65 lead after New Jersey's Lucious Harris opened the period with a jumper.
Richard Jefferson sank a jumper with eight minutes left to bring the Nets within 70-67, but the Hornets responded with an 11-2 run to put away the game.
Davis had a layup and a 3-pointer during the burst and Mashburn capped it with a finger roll for an 81-69 cushion with 2:23 remaining.
P.J. Brown collected 14 points and nine rebounds against his former team as the Hornets held a commanding 46-36 edge on the glass. They grabbed 13 offensive rebounds, leading to 15 second-chance points.
New Orleans extended its winning streak to four games and moved within one-half game of fourth-place Indiana in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
"We are playing better, but it's all about getting healthy," Mashburn said. "We know we are capable of playing against the top teams in the East and in the West."
"Right now, we're just starting to jell as a team," Davis added. "We haven't been together for a while and we haven't been a healthy unit all season. We just want to put ourselves in the best position possible and continue to win games."
Kenyon Martin had 23 points and 15 rebounds and Jefferson added 21 and eight for the Nets, who had a six-game home winning streak snapped.
Jason Kidd had just 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting as New Jersey shot 34 percent (25-of-74) from the floor. He collected six assists and five rebounds.
The teams traded the lead 14 times in the first half, but New Orleans used a 13-2 run bridging the second and third quarters to take a 49-38 lead just 59 seconds into the second half.
New Jersey reeled off 13 consecutive points, highlighted by five from Martin. Kidd capped the burst with a free throw to give the Nets a 51-49 lead with 7:14 to go.
Davis sank two free throws 24 seconds later to tie it, sparking a 7-0 run.
Martin had 12 points in the third quarter but was held scoreless in the fourth. His dunk forged a 63-63 tie with 55 seconds left in the third, but George Lynch capped the quarter with a 3-pointer to give New Orleans the lead for good.