HOUSTON — Lost in the hoopla surrounding Jason Kidd's great cup caper was something a little more important about the reeling Nets: They're still pretty futile at closing out the opposition.

HOUSTON — Lost in the hoopla surrounding Jason Kidd's great cup caper was something a little more important about the reeling Nets: They're still pretty futile at closing out the opposition.

With the Nets down by three and out of timeouts with 8.3 seconds remaining in Wednesday night's 99-94 loss to the Lakers, Kidd essentially asked Tyshawn Taylor to bump into him and spill his drink onto the court, giving the coaching staff time to draw up a play for Paul Pierce. But Pierce missed a potential tying three-pointer and Thursday night, the NBA fined Kidd $50,000 for his actions.

Not much has worked in crunch time for the Nets (4-11), a maddening recurring theme. It's a test the Nets, who face the Rockets (11-5) tonight, know they must start acing to turn their season around.

"It's tough. We are still learning," Pierce said after the Nets stormed all the way back from a 27-point second-quarter deficit to tie the Lakers at 92 with 3:57 left, although they were unable to take the lead after that. "Hopefully we learn before it's too late, before we are completely out of the playoff mix.

"But we still have time. We still need to get healthy. We've just got to be able to hold down the fort a little bit better until our main guys come back."

Squandering another golden opportunity against the Lakers was tough for the Nets' fans to stomach. After Mirza Teletovic missed the second of two free throws with a chance to give the Nets a 93-92 lead, they missed three shots and committed three turnovers, including one by Pierce that led to the go-ahead basket with 1:33 to play.