Yao produces down the stretch


HOUSTON (AP) -- After defeating quality opponents -- Minnesota and
Dallas -- in successive games, the Houston Rockets almost stumbled
against the lowly Los Angeles Clippers.

Steve Francis had 24 points and Yao Ming scored eight of his 19
points in a fourth-quarter rally in the Houston Rockets' 90-85
victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night.

"The important thing was at the key moments we were able to
pick it up," Yao said. "It was something that came from within.
We beat the Mavs and the T-wolves, and we didn't want to lose to
these guys."

The Rockets gained their third straight victory and their fifth
in a row over the Clippers, but it took a final-period spurt to do

"There was some ugly, there was some pretty," guard Mark
Jackson said. "The main thing is just getting the job done. And
the good news is we're doing that now."

Trailing 73-71 in the fourth quarter, Houston got the ball on a
turnover by Bobby Simmons and Yao's basket tied it with 8:20 to
play. A bad pass by Eddie House gave the Rockets their chance to go
ahead, and Yao dunked for a 75-73 lead.

The Rockets never trailed again, sending the Clippers to their
seventh loss in nine games.

Corey Maggette led Los Angeles with 26 points and Elton Brand
added 16.

"Our team did a lot of good things on defense but turnovers
hurt us and the guys that were out hurt us," Maggette said.
"Steve Francis made some great plays for them and Mark Jackson did
a good job off the bench."

Francis, in a shooting slump this season, hit 10 of 15 shots,
helping the Rockets overcome a slow shooting start. Maurice Taylor
had 15 points.

"Steve's effort is what carried us," Rockets coach Jeff Van
Gundy said. "His hustle plays and his extra effort were just

Trailing 63-56 in the closing minutes of the third quarter, the
Rockets scored nine straight points, ending with Francis' 3-point
basket with 4 seconds left for a 65-63 lead, one of Houston's few
advantages in the game.

It was short-lived because Maggette hit a 29-footer at the
buzzer for a 66-65 lead going into the final period.

The Clippers led most of the first half and broke from a 36-34
deficit late in the second quarter for a 39-36 halftime lead.

Maggette had a dunk and free throw and Predrag Drobnjak sank a
hook shot to give Los Angeles the advantage at intermission.

Francis scored Houston's first seven points for a 7-4 lead, but
the Clippers got 10 first-quarter points from Maggette for a 20-18
lead at the end of the opening period.

Yao presented too many problems for the Clippers defense.

"There is nothing you can do against him," said Chris Kaman,
who fouled out in the fourth quarter. "If you beat him up, he's a
good free throw shooter so he gets to the line and makes them. If
you don't beat him up, he's tough to stop."

Game notes
Yao had hit 32 straight free throws, including his first
two Tuesday night, before missing on his third attempt with 3:06
left in the second quarter. He hit 11 of 12 on the night. Yao
hadn't missed a free throw since Feb. 27 against Portland. ...
Quentin Richardson has a sprained back. ... Brand has 34
double-doubles this season. He's fifth in the NBA in that category.
... The Rockets have used the same starting lineup in 60 of 63
games this season.