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Rockets win 9th straight over Trail Blazers

HOUSTON (AP) -- Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy believes Yao Ming
has improved his all-around game.

Yao showed some of that Sunday as he scored 32 points and had 13
rebounds as the Houston Rockets beat the Portland Trail Blazers for
the ninth straight time, 102-84 Sunday night.

Yao had his team-leading 21st double-double, including 17 points
in the third quarter, to help rally the Rockets from one point down
at the half.

"I think he is the best regular-season center in the NBA now,"
Van Gundy said. "Some other guys may play better in the playoffs,
but he's the best during the season because he comes to play every
night."

It continued an impressive stretch for Yao, who has averaged
23.3 points and 13.3 rebounds the last 11 games and has had
double-doubles in seven of the last nine.

"He's had many good stretches, it's just that sometimes we get
caught up in the numbers," Van Gundy said. "I look at the whole
thing, his pick-and-roll coverage, his transition defense. I think
he's gotten better from his first game in the NBA through now.

Yao's teammates agree.

"He's becoming a powerful force inside for us," David Wesley
said. "He's doing a great job. Yao is becoming that dominating
player we really need."

Even Yao is starting to notice he has been especially effective
since Jan. 29 when he came off a stretch of missing 21 games due to
toe surgery.

"Since I came back, my body feels the best it has ever felt,"
Yao said. "And I feel I'm playing my best. It's a very special
feeling right now. I can't figure out what it is but I'm trying to
keep it to the next game and the next game until the end of my
career."

Forward Tracy McGrady left in the third quarter due to recurring
problems with his back and did not return. McGrady, who had 18
points before leaving with 1:29 remaining in the third, has missed
a total of 18 games in three stretches due to back spasms.

The Trail Blazers, whose last win in this series was Nov. 21,
2003, at home, have lost eight of their last nine and 12 of 14.
Steve Blake scored a career high 23 points.

Yao had a pair of three-point plays in the third quarter to help
Houston take a 72-62 lead into the fourth. The Rockets outscored
the Blazers 37-22 in the third, Houston's season-high output for a
quarter.

"Yao was too much for us," Portland coach Nate McMillan said.
"We tried doubling him and playing him straight up and he had an
answer for whatever we put on him. When we double-teamed, he
knocked down his shots."

The Trail Blazers went on a 19-4 run in the second quarter,
including three straight 3s by Blake, to take a 36-35 lead with
2:22 left in the half. Blake had 11 points in the quarter and
Portland led 40-39 at the break.

"(Yao) looked real good tonight," Portland's Darius Miles
said. "He was patient in the post and did what he had to. Yao is
getting better ever year. You can see it."

With Portland starting no one taller than 6-foot-9, the 7-6 Yao
had seven rebounds in the first 5 minutes and Houston led by as
many as 16 late in the first period.

McGrady had 12 points, equalling Portland's team total as the
Rockets took a 25-12 lead into the second quarter. It was the
fewest first-quarter points by a Houston opponent this season.

Game notes
The Rockets are 20-10 in games that both Yao and McGrady
have started this season. ... G Rick Brunson, whom the Rockets
claimed off waivers from Seattle last Thursday, was activated for
Sunday's game. He played the last minute. ... The Trail Blazers
have been outrebounded in 12 of 13 games since C Joel Przybilla has
been out with right knee tendinitis. He did not make this trip. ...
Yao missed his first free throw of the game, snapping a streak of
15 straight made.