HOUSTON (AP) -- Yao Ming had more room to work than usual Friday
And the Houston Rockets center took advantage of it as he
matched his season high with 38 points to lead the Houston Rockets
to a 105-103 victory over the Washington Wizards.
Yao, who had 11 rebounds and recorded his 30th double-double of
the season, couldn't believe the Wizards played only one man on him
most of the night.
"I was pretty surprised that a lot of times they didn't
double-team me," he said. "I was rushing things early in the game
and expecting them to double me.
"After that, I was trying to read the defense and when I saw
that nobody was coming, I took my time. I liked that. I hope every
night they do that."
Coach Jeff Van Gundy thought his team's 3-point shooting early
helped form the Wizards strategy. The Rockets hit four 3s in the
first quarter and Luther Head, who hit two behind the arc, had 13
points as Houston took a 30-28 lead after one quarter.
"That's a bit atypical (for Yao to not be frequently
doubled)," Van Gundy said. "But it also goes to our shooting.
When you make a couple of 3s early, a team is not as likely to go
at Yao as hard."
Head noticed the Wizards' strategy early.
"When they didn't double him, we tried to get the ball to him
as much as we could," said Head, who finished with 20 points. "We
try to get him the ball anyway, but it was a benefit when they're
not doubling him."
The Wizards, who got 28 points from Antawn Jamison and 27 from
Gilbert Arenas, still took the game down to a final 3-point attempt
that Jamison missed at the buzzer.
"I thought we had a good look. It was too bad it didn't go
in," said coach Eddie Jordan, who also lamented the fact 7-foot
center Brendan Haywood missed his second straight game with lower
back pain. "We did the best we could with Yao with the small
lineup we played with. We made Yao miss some shots and I was proud
of our team."
Jamison thought he had a game-winner with his final shot.
"I don't know, but that one felt good and earlier those that
didn't feel good went in," he said. "It felt good, but it didn't
go down and sometimes that's the way things go, but I had an
opportunity to win it.
"This is a game when Brendan would have helped. The big guy
(Yao) earned his check and he put his team on his back and carried
them. I've seen him do some good things, but with that soft touch,
he is unbelievable. The guy is playing phenomenal."
Jamison had five points in a 10-0 Washington run early in the
fourth quarter that pulled the Wizards to within 87-86 with 8:22
But Yao scored eight in an 11-2 Rockets run that opened a 98-88
advantage with 4:21 to play.
Arenas then scored eight in an 11-4 Wizards run to pull to
within 102-101 with 1:15 remaining. Yao hit a turnaround jumper to
extend the lead to three. Jared Jeffries responded with a layup to
close the gap to 104-103 with 16 seconds left.
Rafer Alston was then fouled and made only one of two free
throws. After Washington called timeout, Jamison missed a 3-pointer
at the buzzer.
With the Wizards' loss, the Miami Heat clinched the Southeast
Yao had eight points and Head seven in the third quarter when
Houston led by as many as 15. Yao helped the Rockets build a 62-50
halftime lead scoring 14 points in the second quarter.
After trailing 12-5 in the early minutes, Houston outscored the
Wizards 19-6 over a five-minute span to take a 24-18 with 3:24 left
in the first quarter. Head was good on 5-of-6 shooting as the
Rockets led 30-28 after one quarter.
Washington has lost four straight in Houston. The Wizards
last win here was Dec. 6, 2001. ... Washington, which had won two
in a row on the road coming into the game, has not won three
straight on the road this season. ... Arenas, who missed the game
at Sacramento on Tuesday with flu-like symptoms, has 11 assists for
his eighth double-double and eighth 10-plus assist game of the
season. ... It was Yao's eighth 30-point game of the season.