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Nets blow past Rockets late at Barclays

Extend lead for sixth playoff spot to 2 1/2 games over Miami

March 30, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The Nets were snoozing their way through an opportunity to lengthen their lead in the ongoing race with Miami for the coveted sixth spot in the Eastern Conference.

Then, they finally sounded the alarm.

Cameron Johnson scored 31 points, including a go-ahead 3-pointer with just over two minutes remaining, as Brooklyn used a late burst to sneak past the slumping Houston Rockets, 123-114, in front of 17,074 relieved fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

“We waited a long time to really dive into how we wanted to play,” Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn noted. “There was a ‘we gotta get this win, let’s lock in right now’ (mentality).”

Down 110-105 with 3:05 left, the Nets (41-35) began to display the desperation they’ll need to gain an automatic bid to a first-round, best-of-7 playoff series rather than being relegated to the play-in tournament.

Royce O’Neale drilled a 26-footer off an assist from Johnson, who drained a 26-footer to give Brooklyn the lead for good, 111-110. Nic Claxton made a layup before O’Neale and Dinwiddie buried back-to-back 3s to make it 116-110 with 1:04 to play.

The 11-0 run didn’t feature any points from Mikal Bridges, but he scored 12 of his 27 points in the fateful fourth quarter, when the Nets stretched their lead for sixth place in the East to 2 1/2 lengths over the Heat (40-37), who suffered a 101-92 loss to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Cameron Johnson’s 3-pointer put the Nets ahead to stay with just over two minutes remaining in Wednesday’s home win over the Rockets. AP Photo by Frank Franklin II

Only the top six teams in each conference will advance to a playoff series while the No. 7-10 seeds participate in the play-in for the final two postseason spots. Brooklyn has six games remaining to hold its position.

“We (have) six games left, They’re all super-important for us,” Johnson said. “There’s no excuse for how we played the first 40 minutes of the game, but we were able to clean it up and come out of it with a win.”

Johnson and Bridges were the two key pieces in the deal that sent Kevin Durant to Phoenix last month. They’ve established themselves as team leaders and the Nets’ top scorers since Durant and Kyrie Irving left Brooklyn.

Both were up to the task on a night Brooklyn waited with baited breath to see if the Nets, who had lost six of their last seven overall, would break out of their malaise.

“We’re just happy we’re here and embracing that moment,” Bridges noted after going 4-of-6 from 3-point range and 8-of-17 from the floor overall.

Johnson made 11-of-18 shots, including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc.

Dinwiddie finished with 20 points and 11 assists and Claxton had 18 points and 10 boards for Brooklyn, which kicked off its four-game homestand by ending a four-game home losing streak.

O’Neale knocked down three big 3s off the bench for the Nets, who established a new season high by hitting nine shots from beyond the arc over the final 12 minutes.

Brooklyn finished 17-of-35 from long range while limiting Houston to a 9-of-30 effort.

“We feed off each other, we feed off the crowd,” O’Neale noted. “We trust each other to keep knocking them down.”

Kevin Porter Jr., scored 31 points and Alperen Sengun added 21 for the Rockets (18-59), who lost their seventh in a row despite battling the playoff-hungry Nets deep into the game.

Brooklyn will resume this stand Friday night vs. Atlanta.

Nic Claxton had 18 points and 10 rebounds as the Nets distanced themselves from Miami in the East playoff race with a big win over the visiting Rockets. AP Photo by Frank Franklin II

NOTHING BUT NET: After hosting the Hawks, the Nets will welcome Utah here on Sunday afternoon and Minnesota Tuesday before heading to Detroit on Wednesday. Brooklyn will play five of its final six contests at Barclays. … Seth Curry scored three points in 12 minutes of action after missing the Nets’ two-game trip through Florida last weekend for personal reasons.


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