Sabonis, not Yao, comes up biggest

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- A big man made the difference, only it was the soon-to-be 38-year-old from Lithuania rather than the 22-year-old phenom from China.

Rasheed Wallace scored 16 points -- all in the second half -- and Arvydas Sabonis had a strong all-around game as the Portland Trail Blazers put aside their off-court distractions to beat the Houston Rockets 77-71 Tuesday night.

"Sabas was great,'' Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks said. "We have a few days off so I knew I could play him a little more.''

Sabonis had six points, nine rebounds, three assists, three steals and a career-high six blocked shots in a season-high 27 minutes for the Blazers, who have won four of five.

"It wasn't the first time in my life I had six blocks, it's no big deal,'' Sabonis said. "Of course it was good for me to play 27 minutes tonight. I won't play 27 every night, but I'll play it when they need me.''

Steve Francis led all scorers with 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Yao Ming struggled early with foul trouble and finished with 10 points and two rebounds. Moochie Norris had six points, seven rebounds and five assists for the Rockets, who lost their second in a row and third in four games.

"I loved how we fought, hustled, scrapped,'' Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "Our guys gave everything, but we just couldn't get any outside shots to go down.''

It was a season-low in points for Houston, which shot just 35.5 percent. Glen Rice was 3-for-13, including 1-of-7 from 3-point distance.

"Nothing was going down for us and I thought we had good looks,'' said Francis, who scored just two points in the first half. "We moved the ball around great, but couldn't make anything -- 3-pointers, free throws, anything.''

Scottie Pippen added 14 points and six rebounds for Portland. Derek Anderson had 12 points and nine assists.

But it was the play of Sabonis that turned the tide. Playing mostly against a 2-3 zone that has given Portland fits this season, Sabonis would set up in the high slot, take an entry pass and then whip the ball away from collapsing defenders, allowing his teammates to rotate the ball for an open shot.

"Whenever Sabonis is on the floor, we play with a lot more energy,'' Anderson said. "That's what our team needs, to play with a lot of energy.''

Blazers forward Ruben Patterson, who was arrested and jailed Monday evening on a felony domestic assault charge, was not at the arena.

Portland guard Damon Stoudamire, who was cited along with Wallace early Friday morning on misdemeanor marijuana possession charges, played for just the second time in five games. He entered the game with 3:37 remaining in the first to a chorus of boos and some cheers and played nine unproductive minutes.

Stoudamire walked through a throng of reporters gathered at his locker without answering questions.

How much the Blazers' recent legal troubles have impacted fan support is up for debate, but the smallest crowd of the season was on hand at the Rose Garden. A crowd of 18,088 was announced, but there appeared to be thousands of empty seats in the upper deck.

Portland took a 34-32 lead after an ugly first half. Yao went to the bench just two minutes into the game with two fouls and did not play the rest of the half.

Francis also had to sit midway through the first with a pair of
fouls but eventually returned.

Game notes
Wallace wore a sweatband on his left arm saying "Rube 21'' in honor of Patterson. ... Since becoming Blazers, five of the 15 players on Portland's roster (Wallace, Stoudamire, Patterson, Bonzi
Wells and Zach Randolph) have been either arrested or cited by police -- three in the last five days. ... Wallace picked up his second technical foul of the season with 4:21 remaining in the third, which sparked a 7-2 Blazers run with Wallace scoring all seven points.


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