Howard's late free throws help Houston stay hot

HOUSTON (AP) -- After a one-point win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night, the Houston Rockets were too busy beating themselves up about losing an 18-point lead to celebrate their longest winning streak in almost six years.

Yao Ming scored 23 points and Juwan Howard had 17, including four free throws in the last 13 seconds, to help Houston hold off Portland 81-80 for their seventh straight victory.

Portland had a chance for the win at the buzzer, but Damon Stoudamire's half-court shot bounced off the rim.

"We got the win but when you have a team down like that you've got to keep them down," said Houston's Tracy McGrady. "We shouldn't have been in that situation. It was ugly. I don't want to actually say what it was because it was too ugly."

Darius Miles pulled the Trail Blazers to 81-80 on a 26-footer with 3.1 seconds left, and Houston's David Wesley missed two free-throw tries a second later.

"We don't have a good feeling about that win," Houston's Bob Sura said. "We were able to sneak out that win. We will certainly take it, but we have to play better than that."

The Rockets led 77-74 before Howard made two free throws with 12.5 seconds left, followed by two more with 9.3 seconds remaining.

Houston's seven-game winning streak is the NBA's best active winning streak and the team's longest since March 1999.

"Winning subconsciously softens some teams up and some players up, but winning can also make your hungry for more," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "If you've watched the last two to three games, instead of being hungry for more, we've been softened up by the result of winning."

The Rockets led by as many as 18 before the Trail Blazers came back to take a 72-70 lead with 2:22 remaining on Stoudamire's layup. McGrady, who finished with 18 points, answered with jump shot to tie the game.

"It wasn't the final two minutes, it was the final 24 minutes," Howard said. "Our defense was terrible. Tracy McGrady hit a lucky shot and without that shot our backs would have definitely been against the wall."

The Rockets were 0-of-11 from 3-point range, while Portland was 8-of-13.

Houston's 81 points was its lowest point total in 13 games.

"We obviously put very little into the second half and we got very little back," Van Gundy said. "In the first half we were awful. Do not be fooled by the score. We looked like we were very satisfied with winning six in a row."

Stoudamire scored 25 points, including five 3s, and Joel Przybilla added 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Blazers.

"We have to play forty-eight minutes," said Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks. "We put ourselves in the position where we have to make miraculous plays to win the game."

The loss was Portland's third straight and seventh consecutive road loss.

The Rockets made 31-of-78 shots for 39.7 percent. It was the 12th time the Rockets have shot less than 40 percent and they are 5-7 in those games.

Game notes
Zach Randolph, who had 26 points and 12 rebounds in Portland's last game, scored just seven points Sunday. ... The Rockets' 13 points in the third quarter tied a season low. ... Houston is 10 games over .500 for the first time this season. ... Sunday was the first time since March 4, 2003, at Detroit that the Rockets did not make a 3.