The Brooklyn Nets have played much better basketball since the firing of head coach Avery Johnson last month. Under interim chief P.J. Carlesimo, the Nets have won six straight games and eight of their last name to move all the way up to fourth-place in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

This week the Nets play three games, beginning with a home tilt against the struggling Toronto Raptors Tuesday and concluding with a home-and-home series against the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday and Friday.

The Nets have been paced by an improving defense that is allowing just 94.1 points a game. Additionally, the surge by the Nets has been led by the return to the lineup of big man Brook Lopez, who has been dealing with a nagging knee injury all season.

New Jersey has been kind recently to those using them in their NBA picks and they figure to roll through Toronto Tuesday as a 7-point home favorite. But the Hawks (21-16) figure to be a much stiffer test, especially when they meet in Atlanta Wednesday night.