NEWARK, N.J. - The 76ers couldn't quite run free of the New Jersey Nets' grasp on Wednesday night.

It wasn't so much that the Sixers might lose this game, although there is always that worry, it was that the win wasn't as big as it seemed it would be.

But it was still a 106-92 win, despite the fact that the Sixers went up 21 points early in the third quarter and might have cruised to a blowout victory.

The Sixers improved to 22-26. The Nets dropped to 15-35.

Sixers guard Lou Williams scored a game-high 26 points. Nets reserve big man Kris Humphries finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.

With 10 minutes, 4 seconds left in the third quarter, Sixers guard Jodie Meeks nailed a three-pointer from the left corner that gave his team a 59-46 lead and forced the Nets to call a time-out. A few seconds after that, a fastbreak bucket by Spencer Hawes pushed the lead to 61-46.

New Jersey coach Avery Johnson immediately inserted Humphries for rookie Derrick Favors.

It would be Johnson's last coaching decision. About one minute after that substitution, Johnson stalked the referee after a no-call on his point guard, Devin Harris, led to an easy layup for Meeks. Standing toe-to-toe with the referee, Johnson looked like a baseball manager coming to challenge a call. He was ejected on a double technical with 7:47 left in the third.

On a reverse slam by forward Andre Iguodala with 6:44 left in the same quarter, the Sixers took a 69-48 lead and skipped back to their bench when New Jersey called its second time-out of the half.

The blowout appeared to be on, but these are the Sixers, who've never met a lead they couldn't fritter away. The Nets switched into a zone defense and forced the Sixers to work for the victory.

During the first half, some moments were as smooth as poured water. Sixers guard Jrue Holiday grabbed an uncontested rebound and tossed it ahead to Williams. Williams spotted Iguodala filling the right lane; Williams dished a crisp chest pass to a sprinting Iguodala. Iguodala held it for a beat before skipping an overhead pass to the right wing, where Holiday had filled after the rebound. Holiday immediately swung it to a trailing Elton Brand, whose mid-range jump shot completed one of the more selfless, rhythmic Sixers possessions.

Such possessions are coming more often these days. This one came with just under four minutes remaining in the second quarter, and it ended with Brand's jumper giving the Sixers a 40-38 lead.

There wasn't enough of this perfection to completely bury the Nets. There were mistakes - a soft interior defense against the Nets' big men, a long stretch of poor shooting across two quarters - and so this game wasn't a first-half blowout.

The Nets received 12 first-half points and four first-half rebounds from reserve Humphries.

The Sixers received a smattering of scoring from all of the usual suspects, plus 11 first-half points from Williams.