James Harden made magic against the Magic last week with the first 60-point triple-double in NBA history. The trick for the struggling Nets was to not let the league’s leading scorer and the powerful Rockets go off Tuesday night at Barclays Center.
Say this for the Nets: They tried very hard. They stayed with Houston for most of the first three quarters and even made a late run after falling way back.
But they lost Caris LeVert to a possible concussion in a bloody collision along the way and couldn’t contain Harden or his esteemed backcourt partner, Chris Paul. “The Beard” scored 36 points and Paul contributed 25 more in the Rockets’ 123-113 win.
“I thought we competed better than we did [Sunday] against Milwaukee,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “It’s pick your poison with them. We never really found the solution to stop them.”
The Rockets (39-13) have the second-best record in the league for a reason. They began the night just two games back of the No. 1 Warriors.
“We’re going to try to make a run for it,” coach Mike D’Antoni said.
The Nets (19-36) aren’t in the running for the playoffs after dropping three straight and seven of eight. They were missing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (groin) and Quincy Acy (finger). DeMarre Carroll hit a season-high five three-pointers and paced them with 21 points. Spencer Dinwiddie also made five threes and scored 18.
“I know that Kenny will do everything possible from the coaching standpoint,” D’Antoni said of his former Knicks assistant’s attempt to turn the Nets around. “You know how this league is. It’s talent-driven, player-driven. I know that everybody will do the best that they can do. But this is not an easy league.”
Harden scored five straight points to open it up to 115-99. The Nets responded with a 12-2 run to get it down to six with 1:22 left. But Harden was fouled behind the arc by Rashad Vaughn in his Brooklyn debut and hit three free throws with 1:03 left, then added a three-pointer with 32.4 seconds remaining to set the final margin.
“The Rockets are an extremely tough team to beat,” Jahlil Okafor said.
The Nets trailed by 11 in the second quarter, but trimmed the deficit to two at halftime.
Houston was up 78-74 in the third, and then the Nets went on a 10-2 run. Dinwiddie tossed in a pair of threes, including one from 30 feet that gave them an 84-80 lead.
The Rockets countered with a 16-2 run to close the quarter leading 96-86. Paul took the ball on a trip down the court for a layup with 0.3 on the clock. LeVert ran into a Nene screen and went to the floor.
“I think Caris kind of went down and it kind of sucked a little bit of the life out of us,” Carroll said. “I felt like a father and something happens to your kid at day care.”
LeVert went to be evaluated for a concussion, but Atkinson didn’t know immediately after the game about the results. Okafor, though, spoke to LeVert.
“He said he’s doing well,” Okafor said. “He doesn’t even remember what happened. It looked like his lip [was cut] . . . There was a lot of blood.”