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Short-handed Mavs cruise past Rockets

HOUSTON (AP) -- Down four players, the Dallas Mavericks still had
enough to handle the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.

Dirk Nowitzki had 30 points and 11 rebounds, Jason Terry added
19 points, and the injury-depleted Mavericks beat the Rockets
95-81.

Dallas won for the fifth time in six games, despite playing
without Josh Howard (strained hamstring), Devin Harris (strained
thigh), Adrian Griffin (strained right hamstring) and Keith Van
Horn (strained left knee).

"We're obviously going through a tough stretch right now, lots
of injuries," Nowitzki said. "It's good we have a deep team."

Rawle Marshall, Marquis Daniels and Jerry Stackhouse added 12
points apiece as Dallas inched a half-game ahead of idle San
Antonio for the best record in the Western Conference. The Mavs
have already clinched a playoff spot and beat the Rockets for the
12th time in 15 meetings.

"We don't worry about what San Antonio is doing," Stackhouse
said. "We know we're a playoff team and we'll see how things
fall."

The Rockets, meanwhile, may be ready to start thinking about
next season. They lost their third straight, despite another big
night from Yao Ming, who's averaged 28 points and 13 rebounds since
the All-Star break.

Yao scored 36 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and kept his team
from getting routed early.

"I'm not tired of playing, not tired of scoring," Yao said.
"I'll do anything the team wants me to do."

But Yao never got enough support. The rest of his team went
16-for-47 from the field and Rafer Alston was the only other Rocket
in double figures, with 18.

"We have to find a way to knock down open shots when Yao is
getting double- and triple-teamed," Alston said. "He's playing at
a high level right now and we're going to continue to go to him.
For the rest of us, we have to find a way to help him out."

The Rockets dropped to 2-16 without injured leading scorer Tracy
McGrady. McGrady is expected to miss up to five weeks after hurting
his back in a fall against Portland on March 5. David Wesley missed
his second straight game with a cracked rib.

Together, McGrady and Wesley are averaging 35 points and the
Rockets have lost both games the two have missed.

"It's tough, but I think we're making it tough on ourselves,"
Alston said. "We're giving up fast-break points, we're letting
guys do whatever they want to do on the floor."

The Mavs shot 52 percent (37-of-71) and were clicking from the
opening tip, unlike Tuesday night, when they scored a season-low 34
in the first half against Cleveland.

The Mavs rode an early 13-0 spurt to an 18-8 lead and would've
blown out the Rockets immediately if not for Yao, who scored 13 of
Houston's first 19 points with simple flip hooks and soft-touch
bank shots. Juwan Howard was the only other Rocket to score in the
opening quarter.

"He's tough and he had it going tonight," Stackhouse said of
Yao. "We just tried to make the other guys not beat us. As long as
you can keep the other guys down, you should be all right."

The more-balanced Mavs, meanwhile, easily picked apart Houston's
slow-reacting defense and pushed the lead to 15 early in the
second.

Yao had 27 points and 11 rebounds in the first half -- his 25th
double-double of the season -- despite constant double-teams. He hit
eight of 10 shots and went 11-for-14 from the free throw line in
the first half; the rest of his team shot 7-for-20 from the field
and Dallas led 57-45 at halftime.

The Mavs shot 59.5 percent in the first half and hardly cooled
off in the third quarter, going 9-of-16 (56 percent). They also
found a way to throw off Yao, who had only one basket in the
quarter and started the fourth on the bench.

"We struggled to guard Yao in the first half, but we made some
adjustments and were much more physical in the second half," Mavs
coach Avery Johnson said. "We were fortunate enough to hold him
down then."

Yao came back with 10:23 left and converted a three-point play
during a 9-0 run that trimmed the Mavs' lead to seven.

Alston, left open most of the game when the Mavs doubled Yao,
sank two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter as the Rockets pulled
within 83-77.

Baskets by Marquis Daniels and Nowitzki pushed the lead back to
10 and the Rockets never threatened again.

Game notes
Van Horn was shooting 3-pointers an hour before tipoff and
Dallas coach Avery Johnson said he could be ready to play in 2-3
days. Van Horn has been out since March 3. ... McGrady received an
injection on Wednesday to relieve swelling in his injured back.
He's been undergoing MRI tests for the past four days at a Houston
hospital. ...The 1980-81 Houston Rockets, who lost to Boston in the
NBA Finals, were honored at halftime. Team members Moses Malone,
Calvin Murphy and Rudy Tomjanovich attended the ceremony with the
team's coach, Del Harris, now a Dallas assistant. ... Like Yao,
Nowitzki also recorded his 25th double-double of the season.