Nets clinch playoff berth by beating Rockets for first time in eight years
There weren't exactly any corks popping, no hard bass-driven celebratory music blaring from any boom boxes tucked inside lockers.
Even though they could mark off a box on that preseason checklist of theirs (clinching a playoff berth), none of the Nets were pogo-sticking around after their 105-96 victory over the Rockets. This was, after all, supposed to be a given for a team staring at a league-record price tag of nearly $200 million when tabulating the Nets payroll and subsequent luxury-tax penalties.
"You know, we expected to be in the playoffs," Paul Pierce said. "This is just another step toward our goal. We're happy to be playing well lately over the last couple of months at home against quality ballclubs. But as far as making the playoffs, this is something that we already expected to do. We're happy to make the playoffs, but that's just a small goal of ours."
Remember, the Nets (40-33) were boldly talking about a championship in October, how the team as constructed was good enough to challenge dethroning the two-time defending champion Heat. They looked nothing like title contenders when they got off to that 10-21 start, something that seems like eons ago given their Eastern Conference-best 30-12 mark since Jan. 1.
By taking down the Rockets (49-24), who were without Dwight Howard's services as he nurses an ankle injury, the Nets won for the 14th straight time at home, establishing a new franchise record during the team's NBA days.
"It means a lot because I remember there was a time when we couldn't get a win in this building -- here in our own building," said Joe Johnson, who led the Nets with 32 points. "So this is definitely a special moment and we are going to keep trying to build on it."
Johnson wasn't about to let the Nets' streak come to a screeching halt. He pumped in 15 points in the second half, canning 6 of 9 shots and going 3-for-5 from beyond the arc to help them build upon a three-point halftime edge.
Fueled by Johnson's offensive fireworks, the Nets shot 53.8 percent in the second half and held Houston at bay anytime the Rockets made a bit of a run.
"Well, you know Joe is so unselfish," Nets coach Jason Kidd said. "Sometimes he goes unnoticed and he has a quiet 32 points. He is by far the guy that's been the most consistent for us all season. We need him to be dominant like he was tonight from the post and, but also from behind the arc.
"He's got the total package and he's showing it right now."
Just in time for their late-season push, Johnson aids in punching the Nets' postseason ticket for a second straight season.
"It's always good to know you're in the playoffs, kind of get that pressure off," Deron Williams said. "We expected it at the beginning of the year and we've been expecting it lately with the way we've been playing. And so it's good. It's good for Marcus Thornton who hasn't been in the playoffs yet and those young guys. So we are definitely excited."
Johnson might be happier than anyone.
"It means a lot," he said. "It means a lot to honestly clinch because we've come so far. We've been in an uphill climb pretty much the whole year, so we've been playing catch-up and to kind of clinch is somewhat of a relief. But we understand we've got a lot more work to do."