Nets forward Cameron Johnson looks on after sinking a three-point...

Nets forward Cameron Johnson looks on after sinking a three-point basket against the Rockets in the second half of an NBA game at Barclays Center on Wednesday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

You would have thought Cam Johnson would be pleased.

After all, he scored 31 points on 11-for-18 shooting — including 5-for-9 from three — and grabbed seven rebounds along with five assists in 35:30 to help the Nets to a 123-114 win over the Houston Rockets Wednesday. 

What could be better? Johnson experienced both individual and team success.

But sitting at the dais following the win, Johnson expressed disappointment in how the Nets performed for much of the game. Especially considering the Nets: (A) are in the midst of a playoff race and (B) playing a team that finds itself in the Victor Wembanyama Sweepstakes.

The Nets trailed the Rockets 110-105 with 3:05 left, but ended the game with an 18-4 run. Afterward, Johnson was asked if the Nets could be granted absolution for overlooking the Rockets.

Johnson was in no mood to do so. Not with the Nets only having a game-and-a-half lead over Miami for sixth in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The top six teams in both conferences qualify and avoid being relegated to the play-in round. 

“Not this time of year,” Johnson said after game. “I mean, man, six games left in the regular season. They’re all super important for us. We have to come in. There’s no excuse for how we played the first 40 minutes of the game, really. It’s on us to be better and I think we were able to clean it up and come out of this one with a win. [Head coach Jacque Vaughn] said in the locker room he’d rather learn lessons from wins than losses.” 

What the Nets are learning about Johnson are the variety of ways he can be a positive effect. In the 20 games Johnson has played since being traded to the Nets on Feb. 9 with Mikal Bridges for Kevin Durant, the fourth-year forward from North Carolina is averaging 16.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.4 steals per game. He has also started every game with the Nets.

His numbers in those categories in the three-and-a-half years he was a member of the Phoenix Suns? In 200 games, Johnson averaged 10.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 0.7 steals and started 52 times. 

“He’s a guy that studies the game,” Vaughn said prior to Friday night’s game against the Atlanta Hawks at Barclays Center. “He is extremely prepared as an athlete. He knows personnel. I think that always gives you an edge going into the game. Overall he is an extremely high [basketball] IQ guy. He’s figured out where he’s going to get his shots from, which is tough to do. 

“He’s been, I think, previously in a system where he probably was [going to] find his shots in designated areas. We are a more random-centric basketball team where that’s harder for people to scout and to guard. So sometimes he finds himself pushing on the fast break. Sometimes he finds himself spotting up in the corner. Sometimes he finds himself being a screener in two picks. So that randomness and variety I think has allowed him to blossom and see all of his game. That’s handling the basketball. That’s shooting. That’s on the defensive end; taking charges, high deflection guy for us. So some things that you didn’t see in the past we’re seeing now.”

Against the Rockets, Johnson was responsible for 14 of the Nets’ final 28 points in the last eight minutes of the game. He knocked down three three-pointers, and assisted on Royce O’Neale’s three and a Nic Claxton layup.

Which did not go unnoticed.

“Cam and Royce hit big shots,” Bridges said afterward. “I told [Johnson] he really won us that game.”

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