Yao comes up big


PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Yao Ming spoiled the Portland Trail
Blazers' second-half comeback.

Yao had 28 points and 13 rebounds, including several key baskets
down the stretch, to lead the Houston Rockets to a 93-85 overtime
win over the Trail Blazers on Monday night.

The Blazers rallied from 17 points down midway through the third
quarter to take a 81-75 lead late in the fourth. Yao then made the
Rockets' last three shots to send it to overtime.

Zach Randolph missed a jumper from near the 3-point line at the
end of regulation. In overtime, Portland missed seven of eight

"It's a heartbreaking loss," Portland coach Maurice Cheeks
said. "It looked like we had that game. But we couldn't make the
plays we wanted down the stretch."

Steve Francis added 22 points for the Rockets after being fined
$25,000 earlier in the day for cursing during a live television
interview at halftime Sunday and for criticizing the officials.

The win snapped Houston's three-game losing streak and dropped
Portland a game back of Denver and Utah for the final playoff spot
in the Western Conference.

Randolph led the Trail Blazers with 20 points and Damon
Stoudamire scored 17 of his 19 points after the half.

Jim Jackson's 3-pointer gave Houston a 59-42 lead midway through
the third quarter. But Stoudamire scored eight points, including
two 3-pointers, as Portland went on a 20-5 run to close within
64-62 early in the fourth quarter.

The Blazers took a 76-75 lead when Derek Anderson stole the ball
from Cuttino Mobley and went in for an uncontested layup. Portland
ran its lead to 81-75.

The Rockets wasted a 17-point lead in a loss the night before at

"That was all I could think about for a while," Francis said.
"But nobody on our team was unconfident. Coach told us 'execute'
and we did."

The Rockets, who entered the game with a 3-15 road record
against the Western Conference, rallied behind Yao. He banked home
a shot to make it 81-79, then tied it with a turnaround jumper.

After Stoudamire's 17-footer with 1:18 left gave the lead back
to Portland, Yao sent it to overtime with a driving layup. But not
before the Blazers failed to get a good last shot.

"Zach was trying win and you can't fault a guy for trying to do
that," Anderson said. "He's young and he's going to make
mistakes. But hopefully he'll learn from it."

Yao started the overtime with a slam over Theo Ratliff, the
NBA's leader for blocked shots, and the Rockets were on their way.

"We were trying to get quality shots and we always look inside
out," Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "Yao woke up after three
quarters and played hard.

"I don't usually say this, but Yao Ming gets reffed differently
than anybody in this league. He gets no benefit of fouls in this
league. I hate to say this after a win, but the things Ratliff was
able to get away with tonight ..."

Francis had 10 first-quarter points as the Rockets jumped to a
22-11 lead. The Trail Blazers shot 5-of-19 from the floor and made
one of four free throw attempts in posting their lowest
opening-quarter output of the season.

The Trail Blazers scored the first six points of the second
quarter to get back in the game.

The Rockets, however, built their lead back to double digits and
Clarence Weatherspoon's layup at the first-half buzzer made it
^Notes:@ The Rockets entered the game with the fewest assists
(1,120) and fewest steals (468) in the NBA. Their opponents,
however, were shooting .405 from the floor, worst in the league.
... Portland's Ratliff entered the game with 84 blocks in the 19
games he has played since arriving from Atlanta in the Rasheed
Wallace trade. Wallace led the team last season, with 77 blocks in
74 games. ... The Rockets won the season series for the first time
since the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. Before that, they last
took the season series in 1993-94.