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Yao's big night helps Rockets end Wizards win streak

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Defending Yao Ming is difficult enough withoug
having to rely on third- and fourth-string centers against him.

Yao took advantage of Washington's injuries in the middle to
score 23 of his season-high 38 points in the fourth quarter and the
Houston Rockets ended the Wizards' three-game winning streak with a
114-109 victory Saturday night.

"The sting of injuries many times can't be overcome. ... You feel
for any coach and any team that goes through injuries like that.
We've gone through the same thing here," Rockets coach Jeff Van
Gundy said. "You take wins any way you can get them."

Yao was limited to 15 points through three quarters, but the
Wizards finished the game without backup center Brendan Haywood,
who left in the second quarter with a left thigh bruise, and
starter Etan Thomas, who exited early in the fourth with a left
ankle sprain. Both are day-to-day.

"[Yao's] got an arsenal that I haven't seen before," Wizards
coach Eddie Johnson said. "He is equally dominating on either
box."

And with the Wizards down to James Lang and Calvin Booth to
guard Yao, stopping him was nearby impossible.

"Thomas and Haywood, they are great players," Yao said. "They
always push me out of my position. They have a lot of defensive
experience. They know how to guard a big man, post me up. When
they're out, obviously, it's good for us, good for me."

Yao grabbed 11 rebounds and had six of the Rockets' season-high
10 blocks. Houston outscored the Wizards in the paint, 42-22, and
Washington's centers scored only seven points.

"That's the worst time you want to lose your centers -- against
him," the Wizards' Gilbert Arenas added. "It is hard."

Tracy McGrady had 28 points for Houston before leaving the game
in the fourth quarter with back spasms. Rafer Alston added 12
points for the Rockets in their fourth straight victory over
Washington.

McGrady said he expected to play Tuesday at home against the Los
Angeles Lakers.

Arenas shook off a ragged start to finish with 41 points for the
Wizards, who were bidding for their first four-game streak since
winning five straight from Feb. 4-12, 2006. Antawn Jamison added 27
points and 11 rebounds, and Caron Butler 17 points and 10 rebounds
for Washington.

Yao scored Houston's first 12 points of the fourth quarter. His
two free throws gave the Rockets a 92-91 lead after three foul
shots by Jamison, who was fouled by Juwan Howard on a 3-point
attempt. Yao finished 12-for-14 from the foul line.

Booth's 3-pointer with 30.7 seconds left got the Wizards within
110-109, but Yao responded with a fadeaway jumper over Booth for a
three-point cushion.

Alston scored eight points in a 10-2 run early in the third
period that erased Washington's 57-53 lead. Alston started and
ended the burst with 3-pointers; in between Yao hit a short jumper
and Alston wasn't challenged on a driving layup from the right
side.

McGrady took over from there, scoring 12 points in the final
7:13 of the third. Two free throws by Luther Head, who scored 12
points off the bench, gave the Rockets an 80-74 lead with 1:03 left
in the quarter.

Arenas, who scored 98 points during the three-game winning
streak, missed his first 10 shots of the game -- six from the floor
and four from the free-throw line -- before converting a jumper on
his first field-goal attempt of the second quarter for a 25-20
Washington lead.

He then hit six straight field goals, scoring 13 points in a
2:23 span and 15 consecutive points for the Wizards, who led 52-51
at halftime despite 16 points from McGrady. In between his dry
spell and his strong streak, Arenas briefly left the court and
ditched his white shoes for black sneakers.

Game notes
Washington was whistled for three shot-clock violations in
the first half. ... Houston F Chuck Hayes fouled out with 4:48 left
in the third period after playing 16 minutes. ... The start of the
fourth quarter was delayed nine minutes when lights in the Verizon
Center rafters dimmmed but did not return to full strength. The
game was restarted and the lights reached full power after 3½
minutes.