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Seattle suffers fifth consecutive loss

SEATTLE (AP) -- Houston's combination of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming was too much for the injury-riddled SuperSonics.

McGrady scored 38 points and Yao added 20 as Houston kept Seattle from clinching the Northwest Division for a fifth straight game with a 90-78 victory Monday night.

"When you get your two big guns going, it makes the rest of our jobs a lot easier," said David Wesley, who spent most of the night defending Ray Allen. "If you have Tracy with 38 and Yao with 20, the rest of us just try to fall in where we can."

Allen led Seattle with 19 points but missed 8-of-9 shots from 3-point range.

The Sonics, who have been trying to wrap up the division title for more than a week, dropped their fifth game in a row. Meanwhile, the Denver Nuggets have won eight in a row, including a 122-105 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Monday night, to pull within four games of Seattle with five games remaining.

The Sonics had just nine players in uniform for the second straight game and were missing four of their six top scorers. Rashard Lewis (right foot contusion) and Vladimir Radmanovic (broken right fibula) are out indefinitely, Danny Fortson has a left shoulder strain and Antonio Daniels has a sore knee and a swollen calf.

"We're still missing a lot of key people in the struggle right now," said Seattle's Jerome James, who had two points and five fouls in 13 minutes. "We still believe in ourselves. We're going to stay together and play together. We're going to come out and get the win it takes to lock up this division."

The Rockets, who clinched a playoff spot with their victory over Phoenix on Saturday, are sixth in the West and have won their last three to move one game back of Sacramento.

"Whoever we face in the playoffs, I'm pretty sure we're going to be ready to play," McGrady said.

The Sonics shot just 34 percent from the floor. Ronald Murray had 15 points, while Vitaly Potapenko and Luke Ridnour each added 13.

Yao and McGrady also helped Houston win the rebound battle, 45-40. Yao grabbed 13 rebounds, while McGrady had 11.

"I am just comfortable and confident," McGrady said. "There are no distractions. I block everything out and I'm focused."

Good things happen to the Rockets when McGrady is on his game. In the 24 games he's scored at least 30 points this season, Houston is 21-3.

Damien Wilkins, an undrafted rookie, had the assignment of trying to stop McGrady.

"With a guy like that, you already know his history and the things he's capable of. You just try to limit his touches," Wilkins said. "I tried to do that tonight and he just kept hitting shots."

With Houston leading 59-51, McGrady scored 11 straight points -- including three straight 3-pointers -- to push the lead to 70-59 with a minute to play in the third quarter.

The Sonics kept battling, getting as close as 71-70 with 7:30 remaining, but couldn't stay with the Rockets down the stretch.

Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy was impressed with the effort of the undermanned Sonics and thinks that the results would have been different if his Rockets hadn't stepped up their intensity.

"I thought Seattle, being down people, really competed hard," Van Gundy said. "I was proud because our guys really came ready to play, too. If we hadn't, then we would have been blown out because they played very, very hard."

Without some of their outside scoring threats, the Sonics worked hard to score inside early. Seattle scored its first 10 points in the paint and led 13-6 with 4:45 left in the first, but the Rockets ran off the final eight points of the quarter and led 14-13.

Seattle had trouble in the paint the rest of the game, with Houston blocking seven shots.

The Rockets went on another 8-0 run near the end of the half, but a 3-pointer by Murray with 0.6 seconds left ended the run and tied the game at 37 at intermission. Seattle shot just 31 percent during the first half.

The two teams meet again April 20 in Houston. If Seattle hangs on to the Northwest Division and the Rockets don't overtake Sacramento, the two teams will meet again in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

"If we play Seattle in the playoffs, we will definitely be playing a different team," McGrady said.

Game notes
With the win, the Rockets finish at 25-16 on the road, second-best in franchise history. They play their last four games at home. ... Yao went to the locker room during the third quarter to get stitches after getting knocked on the chin. He had four stitches removed from his chin on Sunday. ... Lewis, who has missed eight straight games with his foot injury, appears close to returning. He was running up and down the court in pregame drills. ... Seattle has not won a division title in seven years.

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