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Nets beat Rockets for third straight win, tie No. 5 Knicks in loss column

This is how you’re supposed to handle the worst team in all of basketball.

The Nets entered Houston with one job: Don’t fall victim in a trap game against a Rockets team with only a handful of victories on the season.

It started slow, but once Brooklyn found some rhythm, the Nets pulled away for a 118-96 victory, good for their third straight victory after a rocky start in the aftermath of the blockbuster Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving trades.

And there’s no better microcosm for Brooklyn’s convincing road victory than Nic Claxton’s resilience after he was on the receiving end of two highlight reel moments.

Rockets star Jalen Green put Claxton on a poster not once, but twice on Tuesday night, including a vicious one-handed slam, followed by a stare-down midway through the third quarter.

Green finished with 25 points but only shot 9-of-21 from the field, a largely impactless stat line other than the brief jolt his highlight-reel dunks gave his team.

Claxton finished the night with 18 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks and a steal. It was easily his best game since the trade deadline.

Even if the Rockets own the worst record in all of basketball, it was a quality win for a Nets team still seeking its chemistry while looking to retain its standing as an Eastern Conference playoff team.

That’s because the Rockets jumped on the Nets early, taking a 12-2 lead out of the gate and led 34-27 early in the second quarter.

The Nets took control shortly after, finding their rhythm from downtown after starting the game 1-of-6 from behind the arc. They then fended off the Rockets’ futile attempts to claw back into the game entering the half — then blowing Houston out of the water with a 22-point second-half lead that never felt within reach for a reeling Rockets team.

Brooklyn held a double-digit lead for the final 22 minutes of the game.

Nets star Mikal Bridges continued his hot scoring streak, finishing with a game-high 30 points on 9-of-20 shooting from the field and a 4-of-10 clip from downtown. Bridges has scored 30 or more points on five of his last eight games in Brooklyn and he became the first player in NBA history to average 25-plus points on better than 50 percent shooting from the field, 40 percent shooting from three and 90 percent shooting from the foul line in his first 10 games with a new team.

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For reference, Bridges only scored 30 or more twice in the first 367 games of his career.

Spencer Dinwiddie added 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting from the field, and the combination of Royce O’Neale, Joe Harris and Seth Curry combined to score 35 points off the bench.

Head coach Jacque Vaughn decided not to play Cam Thomas, who has been his first player off the bench for the new-look Nets.

Nets center Nerlens Noel, who signed a 10-day contract with the team on Monday, played quality minutes and finished with two points, three rebounds and two steals in 18 minutes of play while Vaughn decided to sit second-year big man Day’Ron Sharpe.

The Nets have done themselves a big favor in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. After stunning the Celtics by coming back from down 28 in Boston, then holding down the fort in games they were supposed to win against the Hornets and Rockets, the Nets are now tied in the loss column with the No. 5 Knicks, who lost to the Charlotte Hornets without star guard LaMelo Ball on Tuesday.

Next up: The Nets head to Milwaukee to take on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the championship-contending Bucks.

Unlike the Rockets, the Bucks have the best record in all of basketball and are coming off a convincing victory over the Nets in Brooklyn.

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