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Mobley's season-high 30 lifts Rockets by Suns

HOUSTON (AP) -- In his final game before facing Shaquille O'Neal,
Yao Ming was outplayed by the league's other most-talked-about
rookie.

Yao, however, walked away with a win.

Cuttino Mobley scored a season-high 30 points and Steve Francis
added 19 before being ejected as the Houston Rockets tuned up for
the first Yao-Shaq meeting by defeating the Phoenix Suns 102-96
Wednesday night.

"I may need a suit of armor,'' Yao said of facing O'Neal. "I
will only know how hard it will be after I play him.''

Yao had some difficulty with Amare Stoudemire, who had 24 points
and 13 rebounds -- including a pair of highlight-reel dunks over the
7-foot-6 center. Yao looked timid at times and finished with 11
points, seven rebounds and four blocks.

"I've never seen a 20-year-old play like that,'' Yao said.

Yao will face O'Neal for the first time Friday night when the
Rockets play the Lakers. O'Neal was injured earlier this season
when Houston visited Los Angeles.

Stephon Marbury scored 32 points when not engaging in trash
talk, and Shawn Marion added 25 for Phoenix.

Francis and Randy Brown were ejected with 42.8 seconds left
after a pair of double technicals were called on them for jawing at
each other.

"It was a little pushing down there, and we were walking back
and talking about it,'' Francis said. "The ref thought we were
trying to get into it. After we left the game, we were standing in
the back talking about it.''

Following the ejections, Mobley went to the line and made two
shots to reach his season-high and give Houston a 96-87 lead.

The Suns then began fouling and were able to pull to 99-96
before James Posey hit the second of two free throws for a
four-point lead with 13.2 seconds left. Stoudemire then turned the
ball over while being defended by Yao, ending Phoenix's last
chance.

Posey had 12 points and 11 rebounds as all five Houston starters
scored in double figures. Eddie Griffin scored 10.

"It feels good to come here and be on the winning side for a
change,'' Posey said. "The confidence is here.''

Marbury turned to the Houston bench and yelled, "I'm a real
All-Star. I don't have to get voted on'' during the first quarter
as the Suns led by as many as eight. Rockets fans taunted Marbury
the rest of the night, yelling, "C'mon All-Star,'' at him.

Marbury and Francis also exchanged barbs during the second
quarter, but those could not be overheard.

Neither player commented on the exchanges, although Marbury
capped his postgame remarks by saying, "No contest, man,'' when
asked to assess the upcoming Yao-Shaq matchup.

Many of the best sequences involving Stoudemire and Yao came
during the first quarter. Stoudemire rejected an inside attempt by
Yao, and Yao was tentative for the rest of the quarter.

Isolated on the low block against Jake Voskuhl shortly after
Stoudemire's rejection, Yao put up a weak attempt with his left
hand that rolled off the back rim. Yao missed his final five shots
of the quarter.

"I really don't know how to explain that. When you shoot, there
are two possibilities -- it goes in or out,'' Yao said.

Phoenix led 30-22 after one quarter but then shot just 3-for-24
in the second to allow Houston to take the lead for good.
Griffin hit a pull-up jumper and Yao converted a fast-break
layup for a 54-46 lead midway through the third, and the Rockets
had a 70-63 edge heading into the fourth.

Like Marbury, Stoudemire seemed to think Yao will be at a
disadvantage in Friday night's game.

"How much does Yao weigh?'' Stoudemire asked. "Well, Yao has
the height, but Shaq has the explosiveness and the experience. Shaq
will probably come out just worrying about the game at first, and
I'm pretty sure later in the game they're going to go at each
other.

Game notes
Joe Johnson had his third consecutive poor game since
replacing Penny Hardaway in the starting lineup, shooting 2-for-9
one night after going 0-for-5 against the Spurs. Johnson's backup
at shooting guard, Casey Jacobsen, had airballs on his first two
field goal attempts and finished 0-for-4. ... Rockets F Maurice
Taylor missed his third consecutive game with a sore Achilles'
tendon. ... When Yao found himself with the ball wide open from 27
feet away late in the fourth quarter, the crowd urged him to take a
3. He did not, leaving him 0-for-0 from 3-point range this season.
Yao was 10-for-25 on 3s for the Shanghai Sharks last season but
said earlier this week it'll be 10 years before he shoots one in
the NBA.

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