Nets forward Nicolas Claxton, left, and Trail Blazers guard Gary...

Nets forward Nicolas Claxton, left, and Trail Blazers guard Gary Trent Jr., right, battle for a rebound during the first half of an NBA game in Portland, Ore., on Tuesday. Credit: AP/Steve Dipaola

For three quarters, the Nets played very little defense, but when it was crunch time in the fourth quarter, they held the Trail Blazers to 21 points in the period. Despite zero points in the quarter from James Harden, the Nets hung tough down the stretch to pull out a 116-112 victory Tuesday night at Moda Center in Portland.

The Nets trailed by four late in the third quarter when they began a 21-9 run that extended into the fourth quarter. Nic Claxton, who provided a late spark in their previous win over the Wizards, was effective again with 10 points in that span as they built a 105-97 lead with 8:10 left to play. Back-to-back threes by Robert Covington cut the Blazers’ deficit to two points at the 7:35 mark

The Blazers had three chances to tie the game with less than two minutes left, but CJ McCollum, Damian Lillard and Covington all missed three-pointers before Harden was fouled with 16.5 seconds left. But a replay challenge reversed the call, forcing a jump ball the Blazers won. With 7.8 seconds left, Covington was fouled and missed the first and hit the second to cut the Nets’ lead to 114-112. With 4.4 seconds left, Jeff Green hit two foul shots to put the win away for the Nets.

It was the 16th win in their past 18 games for the Nets (30-14), who face the NBA-best Jazz Wednesday night in Salt Lake City. Harden still had 25 points and 17 assists, Green totaled 20 points, Joe Harris added 17, and Claxton finished with 16 points and nine rebounds. Lillard led the Blazers (25-18) with 22 points, Enes Kanter had 19 points and 19 rebounds and McCollum added 16 points, but the nets held big guns Lillard and McCollum to combined 10-of-36 shooting.

Harden was listed as questionable with neck soreness but tested it during pregame warm-ups and chose to play. Still, The Nets were without Kyrie Irving, who will miss their entire three-game trip to tend to family matters, and Kevin Durant, who continues to recover from a left hamstring strain. But coach Steve Nash indicated Durant, who missed his 16th straight game, is getting close to a return.

"He just has to close that kind of critical last stage of his rehab," Nash said. "He is working out on the court pretty much every day. He looks great. If this was the playoffs, there’s a chance he’d be back very soon, but…the most important thing is to get him back for the remainder of the season."

It was a good thing for the Nets that Harden was part of their arsenal because, true to their nature, the Trail Blazers came out firing from deep. The Nets were hot early, making six of eight three-point attempts in the first quarter, which ended with the Blazers holding a 41-37 lead. That tied the most points allowed by the Nets in a first quarter this season.

The teams traded the lead six times in the second period as the Blazers took a 66-65 lead after a dunk by DeAndre Jordan was erased by a shot clock violation during a replay review at halftime. By that time, the Blazers already had put up 29 threes and made 12 of them, but the Nets had a huge 34-12 advantage in points in the paint.

The Nets trailed by seven early in the third quarter, but they put together a 14-6 run that included six points from Harden to give them a brief 84-83 lead. At the end of the period, the Nets put together another 8-3 surge that included six points from Claxton, including two lobs from Harden for a 92-91 lead going to the fourth quarter.

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