Nets lose Harden but beat Rockets

NEW YORK (AP) — Admittedly down in the doldrums, the Brooklyn Nets were behind by 18 points in less than five minutes.

By the end of the night, they were on top of the Eastern Conference.

Kyrie Irving had 31 points and a season-high 12 assists, and the Nets overcame the loss of James Harden to beat the Houston Rockets 120-108 yesterday and move into first place in the East.

Harden sat out the fourth quarter against his former team with right hamstring tightness, finishing with 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

The Nets put together the pivotal run without him, scoring 12 straight midway through the final period to turn a six-point deficit into a 107-101 lead.

Houston Rockets’ Kevin Porter Jr (3) and Jae’Sean Tate (8) defend against Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving during the game. PHOTO: AP

Coach Steve Nash said the Nets will see how Harden feels Thursday before their game against Charlotte, but was confident the All-Star guard didn’t have a long-term injury. Brooklyn has been without Kevin Durant since mid-February because of his own hamstring strain.

“Any time someone goes down it’s very concerning,” Irving said. “Any time someone doesn’t play we definitely have to have that mentality that we’re still going to play at a very high level.”

Joe Harris added 28 points for the Nets, who didn’t even lead until the last half-minute of the third quarter, but emerged with their 19th win in 22 games, improving to 26-9 since acquiring Harden from Houston on January 14.

At 33-15, they are a half-game ahead of Philadelphia atop the East. It’s the latest the Nets have led the East since they were 49-31 on April 13, 2003, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Kevin Porter Jr scored 20 points for the Rockets, who got Christian Wood back after missing the previous two games because of injury and illness but were without John Wall because of a knee injury.

Danuel House Jr added 18 points and Wood had 14, but he pointed the finger at himself after taking just three shots in the final period.