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Houston coasts to victory

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Maurice Taylor has become immune to the
negative reaction he receives whenever he returns to play the Los
Angeles Clippers. Eric Piatkowski didn't know what to expect.

"He was nervous," said Taylor, who scored 11 of his 17 points
in the fourth quarter of the Rockets' 105-90 victory over the
Clippers on Monday night. "But I told him, `Hey, you have nothing
to be nervous about. They love you. It's me they hate. You got more
cheers here than you're going to get your first game in Houston."

Piatkowski, who played in more games for the Clippers' franchise
than anyone except Randy Smith, signed a three-year, $8 million
contract with Houston on July 27 after leaving the Clippers as an
unrestricted free agent. But he missed the first 12 games and most
of the preseason with a sprained left ankle.

"I definitely didn't want it to work out this way. I wanted to
play all the games this season," Piatkowski said. "I've been very
fortunate not to have too many injuries in my career, so that's
helped me be in probably the best shape that I've been in my whole
career.

"I was really ready and prepared for training camp. So to have
to go down with a bag ankle sprain the way I did was very
frustrating. It was really tough on me, but I'm excited not to be
back."

Piatkowski, who appeared in only three playoff games during his
nine seasons in Los Angeles, set Clippers franchise records with
738 3-pointers made, 1,835 attempted, and a .402 percentage from
behind the arc. He played had five points in 11 minutes against his
ex-teammates after missing his first two shots from 3-point range.

"My shot's there. It'll be fine," Piatkowski said. "The one I
knocked down in the second half felt fine. I was in the flow of the
game, and I think I'm ready to take off flying. Hopefully, I'll be
contributing on a consistent basis soon."

Yao Ming scored all 18 of his points in the first half for the
Rockets, who tied Dallas for first place in the Midwest Division.
Steve Francis, held to four points in Houston's loss at Portland on
Friday night, finished with 19 points and nine assists.

Corey Maggette scored a season-high 33 points for the Clippers,
who missed 11 of their first 12 shots and finished with a field-
goal percentage of 34.1 against the league's top defense.

The Rockets, in their first season with Jeff Van Gundy as coach,
entered the game leading the league in fewest points allowed per
game (81.5) and lowest field goal percentage allowed (.374). When
Van Gundy ran the Knicks in 2000-01, New York finished first in the
NBA in both categories.

"It's just a testament to our coach," Taylor said. "He came
in and supplied with a philosophy and supplied us with a system,
and we run it. On defense, we're really an extension of our coach,
because everyone knows he's a defensive-minded coach.

"Last year the knock on us was that we were all isolation
players and scorers. Our defense wasn't that bad, but with Jeff, he
has a philosophy and he makes us stick to it, no matter how
stubborn we want to be and how much we want to get away from it."

Playing its ninth game without power forward Elton Brand and
third without point guard Marko Jaric, Los Angeles has lost four in
a row following a four-game winning streak.

Clippers scoring leader Quentin Richardson, coming off a
career-high 36 points Saturday in a loss at Minnesota, missed all
four shots he took and left the game with 3:23 remaining in the
first quarter after spraining his left ankle.

"It's a big loss for us," Keyon Dooling said. "When we lost
`Q,' he's pretty much who we've been playing through right now with
Elton out. So that's about 70 percent of our offense. Not only does
he shoot the ball, but he causes double-teams and gets other guys
open."

Francis hit a 20-foot jumper that gave Houston a 67-51 lead with
5:22 left in the third quarter. The lead dwindled to 73-66 when
Clippers center Predrag Drobnjak made a 3-pointer from the top of
the key with less than a second left in the period.

But Los Angeles got no closer. Piatkowski opened the fourth
quarter with his first 3-pointer in a Houston uniform. Moochie
Norris also connected from 3-point range, and Taylor's three-point
play put the Rockets up by 12 with 10 minutes remaining -- to the
chagrin of the crowd of 16,962.

"I love it when they boo me," said Taylor, who led the
Clippers in scoring during his last two seasons with them. "It got
me going, especially in the fourth quarter. Whenever you go into a
hostile environment, they're booing you. But as long as you've got
your team behind you, you don't really care."

Game notes
The Rockets placed G Mike Wilks on the injured list because
of a bruised right shoulder after activating Piatkowski. ...
Richardson was selected the Western Conference player of the week
after leading the Clippers to three straight victories with
averages of 27.3 points and 10.7 rebounds.

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