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Nets rally late but fall short in loss to Rockets

Nets forward Taurean Prince (2) looks to pass

Nets forward Taurean Prince (2) looks to pass the ball as Houston Rockets forward PJ Tucker, right front, defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019, in Houston.  Credit: AP/Eric Christian Smith

HOUSTON — When James Harden and Russell Westbrook combined to score the first 37 Rockets points in forging a 42-20 first-quarter lead, it appeared the Nets were headed for a visit to blowout city Saturday night.

The Nets found the will to overcome that 22-point deficit and go ahead by a point twice in the fourth quarter, but Harden and Westbrook had just enough in their arsenal, scoring a combined 67 points in the Rockets’ 108-98 victory at Toyota Center.

Just when it seemed as if the Nets lacked the firepower to stay with the Rockets, they found an unlikely source of scoring. The second unit put together an 18-1 run spanning the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth, and the Nets took a 90-89 lead on DeAndre Jordan’s tip-in with 8:58 left. Theo Pinson had seven points in the surge.

Pinson gave the Nets their last lead at 92-91 with a layup at the 7:25 mark. That was when Harden regained his magic touch, getting to the rim twice for baskets in an 8-0 burst. His floater in the lane with 4:33 to go gave the Rockets a 99-92 lead.

Harden’s right-wing three-pointer with 42.9 seconds left made it 107-98.

Harden totaled 44 points, shooting 6-for-10 on three-pointers, to go with 10 rebounds and six assists for the Rockets (22-10). Westbrook added 23 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

The loss was the second in a row for the Nets, who shot miserably in a home loss to the Knicks on Thursday.

“That’s the second game in a row where I feel like we’re out of sync,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I don’t know what it is. We’re not in rhythm right now, especially offensively. We’ve got to get that back on track. Overall, our defense looked pretty good, but our offense is just not carrying the weight.”

Harden totaled 23 points, shooting 9-for-11, and Westbrook had 14 points on 7-for-9 shooting as the Rockets opened their 22-point first-quarter lead. At one point, they were 12-for-13, including a trio of three-pointers by Harden. But Atkinson and the Nets then slowed him down.

“We threw different defenses at him,” Atkinson said. “When he blitzed us with those three threes, we said, ‘That’s it. We can’t stick to man-to-man.’ The rest of the game, we junked it up and played all different types of defenses, box-and-one, triangle-and-two; you name it and we did it.”

Spencer Dinwiddie topped the Nets (16-15) with 17 points and 11 assists but had a rough night, shooting 6-for-20 overall, missing all seven three-point attempts and hitting only 5 of 11 foul shots. The Nets also got 16 points and 10 rebounds from Jarrett Allen and 16 points from Taurean Prince.

Dinwiddie blamed himself for the Nets’ offensive struggles against the Rockets.

“In the Knicks game, we shot 27 percent,” he said. “That was out of character. Tonight, more than our collective offense playing bad, I’ve got to call a spade a spade. I played very terribly in terms of offensively, missing free throws, I had a couple threes go in and out. If those things happen, we’re back on track and the offense looks the way it needs to look.”

Defenses lately have been giving Dinwiddie extra attention, but he said Harden found a way to manufacture points and suggested he should have done something similar.

“There’s no excuses,” Dinwiddie said. “During the Knicks game, we collectively came out and dropped the ball. Against this team, a much better team stylistically, we tend to play them very well. I do my job, we win this game.”

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