It shouldn't have been this close.
The Rockets played even with the East's best team until the fourth quarter and then they ran out of gas. Playing their fourth game in five nights was tough enough, but playing without Steve Francis was too much.
Frankly, they were lucky to be in the game. Just check the facts:
The Nets shot nearly 50 percent from the floor, had 27 assists and Jason Kidd shot only 5-14 from the floor.
The Rockets had only 2 fast break points, missed 8 freethrows and got a 6-point, 2-8 performance from Eddie Griffin
That simply spells disaster yet the Rockets trailed by only 2 entering the final quarter. Unfortunately, they were just too worn out to finish.
Moochie Norris was money on the floor hitting 10 of 20 shots for 23 points, grabbing 8 boards and dishing 6 times. Kenny Thomas was equally as impressive scoring 21 and getting 10 boards (9 in the second half). Cuttino Mobley pitched in 16 and even Terrence Morris had a good game with 9 points (4 of 7 shooting - you go, Tmo!) and 7 boards.
Unfortunately, rookie Eddie Griffin, playing his first game against the team he was drafted by, had a rough night as New Jersey wisely double teamed him and didn't give him much room to operate. With Griffin commanding more respect, he will have to adjust his game.
The Nets countered with balanced scoring from Keith Van Horn (22), Kerry Kittles (21) and four others in double digits.
The difference, however, was at the point. Showing why he is an MVP candidate, Kidd shook off an awful shooting performance to nearly turn in a triple double with 10 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds. He made some unreal passes in transition and was truly a catalyst down the stretch.
Speaking of point guards, the Rockets really missed Francis who sat out with yet another migrane headache. This is a serious concern for Houston with Francis going one game on and one game off. Without the scoring and leadership of Francis, the Rockets couldn't finish.
The Rocks had a solid first half leading 52 to 47, finishing with a flourish including 5 straight from Morris. It wasn't until late in the third when the Nets just seemed to overpower the Rockets. With little bench coming on the heels of a tough back-to-back game, Houston just ran out of gas.
New Jersey put the Rockets away with a fourth quarter run beginning with around 9 minutes left. It was never really in question after that.
Everyone should feel good about the effort put on the floor by the Rocks. It was valiant considering the injury situation and the tough stretch of road games. We can only hope they get some rest and an answer for Francis' headaches.
Heavy snow outside in New Jersey just added to the league worst attendance totals for the Nets. The arena looked nearly empty.
Steve Francis came to shootaround with a bad migraine and was unable to start which is a bad sign for the Rockets.
Cuttino Mobley hit his first three making him 65% from behind the arc in the last 5 games and the Rockets started hot hitting their first 3 shots and took and 8-0 lead before Kerry Kittles got a breakaway dunk.
All five Rocket starters scored by the time there was 7:30 left in the first.
Jason Kidd ranks first in the NBA in assists and we got a demonstration when he fired a wicked no-look bounce pass to Kittles on the break for a dunk and a 16-16 tie.
The Nets took a three point lead 21-18 shooting 71 percent from the floor while the Rockets shot 78 percent from the floor.
The Rockets interior defense looked terrible early. Aaron Williams had 8 early points mostly on inside dunks.
The first quarter ended with the Rockets trailing 27-24. The Nets shot 61 percent in the first quarter.
Terrence Morris made his first two shots from the floor and looked much more confident.
Tierre Brown getting some minutes with Francis out got 7 early points.
At one point in the second quarter, the two teams had a combined six rookies on the floor at the same time.
With 4:20 left in the half, the Rockets take back the lead 41-39 on a Moochie Norris three pointer from about 26 feet.
Both teams went back and forth and kept it stuck on 43-43 until Norris hit a long 2 to give the Rockets back the lead.
Quickly, the Nets came back with 4 unanswered points including a fast break dunk by Keith Van Horn to take the lead 47-45 with 1:10 left in the first half.
The Rockets came right back with 7 in a row of their own to re-gain the lead 52-47 at the half including 5 points from Morris.
Both teams shot 54 percent in the first half and the Rockets were 5 of 8 from downtown.
The Nets began the second half with tough defense really hammering down on the Rockets physically.
Great fast break gave the Rockets a 7 point lead. Kelvin Cato blocked Van Horn which led to a terrific bounce pass from Norris to Griffin and a feed to Kenny Thomas for the dunk and the foul.
Is it just me or does Todd Macculloch look like that wierd kid from the movie The Burbs?
Thomas continued to have the hot hand in the 3rd quarter and hit several jumpers over Van Horn for 17 points.
Cato got to the line several times in the third but missed most. He was 3-8 from the line in the game including 1-4 in the third quarter. With a minute left in the third, the Rockets were only 11-19 from the freethrow line while the nets were 8-8.
New Jersey went on a run at the end of the third to take a 5-point lead at the end of the third 77-72.
The Rockets started the final frame looking like a team that was playing their fourth game in five nights allowing a 7-point Nets lead before Thomas hit a long jumper.
After an offensive putback by Kidd, the Nets led again by 7 and Rudy called a timeout. With four minutes gone in the 4th the Rockets had only managed 24 points in the entire second half.
Kidd, who started 1-9 from the field finally managed to put two shots back to back to give New Jersey their largest leadof the game 85-76.
Norris was practically the only offense for the Rockets in the fourth as the Rockets struggled to score and trailed by 7 with only 2:08 left in the game.
After Kittles hit two freethrows, the Nets were 12-12 from the freethrow line.
As the game went down to the wire, Kidd began to hit shots and the Nets played very strong defense to just wear down the Rockets.
Kidd hit Kittles with an incredible bounce pass for a dunk with 1 minutle left in the game to push the lead to 13 and put the capper on it.
Jeff can be reached at email@example.com