By Brian Mahoney
East Rutherford, Newark or Brooklyn. The Houston Rockets win no matter where the nomadic Nets call home.
James Harden and Carlos Delfino each scored 22 points, and the Rockets tied their longest winning streak against any opponent by beating Brooklyn for the 13th straight time, 106-96 on Friday night.
Houston blew most of a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter before Delfino hit a big 3-pointer with 1:54 left. He later made another jumper before Harden followed with a 3-pointer to put it away and remain unbeaten on the road against the Nets for 10 years.
"It was our defense," Harden said. "We started moving the ball and making the easy pass. We were kind of doing too much playing in traffic and they were causing turnovers and getting easy points, so we kind of slowed down in that sense and got a lot of open looks.
"It was a very good road win for us. Now we have to go into Washington tomorrow and play well."
Delfino made six 3-pointers. Harden, coming off a career-high, 46-point game Wednesday against Oklahoma City, made four 3s and finished 7 of 14 from the field.
Brook Lopez scored 27 points for the Nets, who played without starting guard Joe Johnson for the first time this season because of plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Deron Williams added 15 points and 13 assists, but shot 5 of 17 as Brooklyn had its four-game winning streak snapped.
The Rockets haven't lost to the Nets since March 13, 2006, in Houston. They haven't lost to the Nets on the road since March 31, 2003, in East Rutherford, N.J. — two homes ago for the team that moved to Brooklyn this season.
The Rockets also beat the Sonics-Thunder franchise 13 straight times from 2007-09 and Minnesota from 2007-11.
Brooklyn missed a chance to tie New York for first place in the Atlantic Division after the Knicks fell in Toronto. The Nets snapped a 13-game skid against Milwaukee earlier this week, but couldn't keep up with the NBA's highest-scoring team.
"This was a winnable ballgame for us, we just couldn't score the ball in the second half," Williams said. "Those shots they hit there at the end just kind of killed us. Big shots by them and we didn't make enough plays down the stretch."
Houston built a big lead early in the fourth quarter but got sloppy, committing a series of offensive fouls and letting the Nets run off nine straight points at one point. Mirza Teletovic, who scored nine of his 12 in the fourth quarter, hit a 3-pointer that cut it to 97-94 with 2:57 to go before Delfino and Harden had the finishing flurry.
"With 10 minutes to go in that game, we were up 15 and we just had to take care of the ball and move it," Houston coach Kevin McHale said. "Tonight the ball got sticky at times. We don't play really well when the ball gets sticky. We have to have ball movement."
"The past couple of weeks we've shown flashes, in my mind, of being a really, really, good team, whether it was the game against OKC or Golden State, or games like that," point guard Jeremy Lin said. "Today was an uglier one. We turned the ball over. We didn't play as well as we normally did. We're thankful."
The Rockets used only nine players. Newcomers Thomas Robinson, the No. 5 pick in last year's draft, Francisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt weren't available because Patrick Patterson, Toney Douglas and Cole Aldrich, the players traded to Sacramento on Wednesday, hadn't gotten their physicals done in time. The Rockets hope they will be available Saturday.
The Rockets shot 62 percent in the first quarter, but led only 34-31 after the Nets made 59 percent. The Nets cooled off to only 39 percent in the second quarter, but the bigger problem was their defense.
Brooklyn repeatedly botched its defensive coverages, allowing the Rockets' big men to get wide open inside the lane. Houston took a 10-point lead midway through the period and was ahead 61-53 at the break, with an amazingly balanced effort featuring eight players scoring between six and 10 points.
The Nets quickly evened it up in the third and it remained close until Harden scored the final seven points of the period in the last 1:11, giving Houston an 84-75 lead. James Anderson and Patrick Beverley opened the fourth with consecutive 3-pointers, pushing it to 90-75, before the Nets toughened again.
"The way we played in the second half is the way we need to play in the whole game," swingman Keith Bogans said. "We fought, we played defense, we got stops. Just that little stretch at the end where we didn't make any shots, but it shows what type of team we can be. We just have to play that way for 48 minutes instead of 24."
Omer Asik had 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Rockets. Lin finished with nine points and six assists, the former Knicks star getting a nice ovation before the game.
C.J. Watson scored 17 points in place of Johnson.
Notes: Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov was at the game. Though the Russian billionaire said during his season-opening press conference that a conference finals trip would be a successful season, general manager Billy King said Prokhorov never told that to him. King made no moves before the trade deadline and said he hoped the Nets continued to improve with more time together. ... Harden and Bogans picked each technical fouls for exchanging words in the second quarter. ... Johnson leads the Nets with 38 minutes per game.