Johnson scores 32 as Nets clinch playoffs
Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Johnson (7) and Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) face off during the second half of their NBA basketball game at the Barclays Center, Tuesday, April 1, 2014, in New York. The Nets defeated the Rockets, 105-96. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets are so good at home now that even the Houston Rockets can't beat them.
The Nets clinched a playoff berth by beating the Rockets at home for the first time in 11 years, getting 32 points from Joe Johnson in a 105-96 victory on Tuesday night.
Shaun Livingston added 17 points for the Nets, who extended their home winning streak to 14 games, longest in their NBA history and tops in the league this season. They finished 18-12 overall against the Western Conference.
"We've just been playing and trying to protect home court. They came in here and we try to send them on their way with a loss, and that's for everybody," Livingston said. "It just happens to be we've been playing good basketball against the West."
The Nets ended a 14-game skid against Houston with their first victory in the series since March 13, 2006. The Nets hadn't defeated the Rockets at home since March 31, 2003, when they were still playing in East Rutherford, N.J.
The Nets also pulled within 1½ games of Toronto and Chicago for the No. 3 seed in the East and home-court advantage in the first round, quite a change for a team that was so bad during its 10-21 start that Johnson had trouble envisioning where it is right now.
"Honestly, I couldn't even see it," he said. "I kept saying to myself eventually this is going to turn around, things are going to turn for us. Eventually it did starting the new year. We were a different team, our mindset was different and the way we played was different."
James Harden scored 26 points for Houston, which lost its second straight following a five-game winning streak. Still without Dwight Howard because of a sore left ankle, the Rockets shot just 38 percent from the field.
"We just missed some shots, missed some opportunities," Harden said of the Rockets, also without starters Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones. "We let them get too comfortable early in the game. They got it going and it was tough."
Harden was 16 of 16 from the free-throw line. Omer Asik had 12 points and a career-high 23 rebounds while starting for Howard, while Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons each added 16 points.
The Nets held the NBA's second-highest scoring team 11 points below its average and improved to 30-12 overall since Jan. 1. They haven't lost at Barclays Center in more than two months and make just a short trip Wednesday to visit the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
"We know these games, even if you say they don't mean more, they mean a lot more, I think, just because of the rivalry that's been formed," Nets guard Deron Williams said.
Brooklyn had six players score in double figures in its third win in a row overall. It was once again without starting center Kevin Garnett because of back spasms, as it was all March while going 12-4, as well as key reserves Andrei Kirilenko (sprained left ankle) and Marcus Thornton (back).
The Nets shot 59 percent in the first quarter, getting 11 points from Johnson in taking a 29-24 lead. Houston moved ahead for the first time midway through the second, but Brooklyn put together an 11-0 spurt late in the half and took a 54-51 edge into the break.
The Nets opened their largest lead when Johnson's 3-pointer made it 78-67 with 4:03 left in the third, but the Rockets were back within one before Johnson nailed another 3 with 45 seconds remaining to send Brooklyn to the fourth with an 83-79 advantage.