NEW YORK– At the end of the 2013 calendar year, if you told Brooklyn Nets forward Joe Johnson that his team clinched a playoff berth with nine games remaining, he would not have believed you.
But Tuesday night, Johnson’s 32 points not only helped the Nets set a franchise record with their 14th straight win at home, but clinch that postseason spot, defeating the Houston Rockets 105-96.
“I couldn’t even see it, I kept saying that things would eventually turn for us,” Johnson said. “Starting the New Year, it did. It was a different team, our mindset was different and the way we played was different.”
The Nets are 21-2 in their last 23 home games.
“We just stayed the course,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said. “When you look at the group of guys in that locker room, they all believed. We stayed together, we stayed professional, we worked and never had an excuse.”
In a game that saw neither team led by more than 12 points, Johnson had another efficient night from the field as the veteran carried the Nets, who had trouble shooting. Johnson hit four of the Nets’ six 3-pointers.
Three of his 3-pointers came in the second half with the Rockets closing in.
“For the most part, I had a lot of catch-and-shoot moments there,” Johnson said. “A scorer gets into a rhythm, the basket gets a little bigger.”
Johnson was able to mix his game up, assaulting the Rockets defense from both inside and outside, yet big nights like this can almost go unnoticed to his team.
“Sometimes it might look too easy. He doesn’t celebrate,” Kidd said. “It’s like the saying, ‘you score a touchdown, and you act like you’ve been there before.’ That’s what he does. He scores. There’s no celebration. It’s just about taking care of business and that’s just his personality.”
Trailing for most of the game but never by less than nine points, the Rockets continued to snap at the Nets’ heels but could not overtake them.
The Rockets lost two straight without starting forwards Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones after a five-game winning streak was snapped Saturday.
Rockets guard James Harden, the NBA’s fifth-leading scorer, had 26 points and seven assists. Forward Chandler Parsons and guard Jeremy Lin scored 16 points each.
“We were getting into a groove with everyone healthy and now a couple games ago guys get injured and now we have three starters out,” Harden said. “It is tough to figure out what we need to correct because we do not have our consistency as a unit.”
Nets guard Shaun Livingston scored 17 points and complemented guard Deron Williams’ 12 points and six assists.
“We’re just playing off each other,” Livingston said. “I kind of have a feel for his game, and I just try to put him in the best positions. He hasn’t had a problem. He’s been rolling and so have we.”
The Rockets were held to five points in the game’s first six minutes until Harden found his groove, scoring half of his team’s first 24 points. Houston did not fare well from the field, hovering around 40 percent for much of the game.
“We did not attack well,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “We settled a lot. We didn’t shoot the ball very well. We took a lot of bad shots.”
Livingston, despite early foul trouble, had 10 points in the first half as both teams had difficulty finding their shooting touch
A 10-2 run by the Rockets provided their first lead of the game with four minutes left in the first half, but the Nets were quick to answer with an 11-0 run to take a three-point lead at halftime.
With the win, the Nets hold the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs, two and a half games behind the Chicago Bulls for the number four spot.
“To clinch is somewhat a relief,” Johnson said. “But we understand that there is a lot of work left to do. We want to try and increase our seed in the Eastern Conference. We need to keep playing hard, keep trusting one another and keep helping each other out.”
NOTES: The Rockets had a five-game winning streak snapped Saturday night in Los Angeles, losing to the Los Angeles Clippers 118-107. … The Rockets were without F Terrence Jones (flu-like symptoms) and C Dwight Howard (ankle). Howard ranks third in the NBA in field goal percentage (59 percent) and fourth in rebounding (12.3 rpg). … Rockets G James Harden ranks fifth in the league with 25.0 points per game, leading the NBA’s second-best offense, which averages 107.0 ppg. …The Nets won their 14th straight home game, topping the franchise record set in 2002. Brooklyn is 20-2 at the Barclays Center since Dec. 27. … Nets coach Jason Kidd was named the Eastern Conference’s coach of the month. It is the second time this season that he won the award.
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