HOUSTON - This is why it's so maddening at times to figure out the Nets.

They were coming off one of their ugliest losses of the season, succumbing to the undermanned Pelicans about 350 miles east of here on I-10 two days earlier, and were squaring off with one of the Western Conference's best, a team that had lost at home only eight times in 29 contests this season. And for most of the night, it appeared they would escape a hostile environment with a gritty victory, meaning they could already say their 11-day, five-city road trip was a success before the finale in Dallas on Saturday night.

But James Harden strutted his MVP stuff just when the Rockets needed him most.

Markel Brown missed a potential tiebreaking three-pointer with 43.6 seconds left and was whistled for a foul away from the ball on Harden 16 seconds later, the beginning of a stretch in which Harden scored three straight points -- including a trademark step-back jumper with 27 seconds remaining -- to send the Nets to a 102-98 loss at Toyota Center on Friday night.

Mason Plumlee and Deron Williams had 15 points apiece for the Nets (23-33), who fell to 2-2 on this trip.

Harden finished with 15 points, 12 assists and five rebounds for the Rockets (40-18). Terrence paced them with Jones' 25 points.

Brooklyn had control for the better part of the first three quarters and led by as many as nine points in the third, yet trailed 74-73 heading into the fourth in large part because of eight third-quarter turnovers.

Before the game, Nets coach Lionel Hollins harped on the importance of taking care of the basketball, underscoring how if they didn't, it would allow one of the league's fastest teams in terms of pace to control the action and tempo in their favor.

A flourishing first-quarter effort by the starters vaulted the Nets to a 13-point lead, with Lionel Hollins keeping them in for the entire 12 minutes. They canned 15 of 24 shots, cooling off ever so slightly after nailing 12 of their initial 17, and matched their season-high first-quarter point total with 36 to grab an early 11-point edge.

Plumlee was a force inside in the opening quarter, pouring in 11 points. But the Nets could hold off the Rockets' offensive prowess only for so long, and Patrick Beverly's old-school three-point play with 3:00 remaining in the half handed Houston its first lead of the night at 51-50.

That didn't last long, though, as the Nets regained the lead 22 seconds later on a Brown free throw, giving them confidence heading into the break with a 57-53 advantage.

Notes & quotes: Bojan Bogdanovic missed his third straight game with a sprained left ankle, which he injured in practice in Denver on Sunday, and is unlikely to play Saturday night.