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Rockets extend longest winning streak since 2004-05 season

HOUSTON (AP) -- In the tightly packed Western Conference, the Houston Rockets know they can't afford to drop home games to teams with losing records. They left nothing to chance against Atlanta on Saturday night and continued their surge into playoff contention.

Yao Ming had 28 points and nine rebounds, and the Rockets routed the Hawks 108-89 for their 10th win in 11 games.

Tracy McGrady added 15 points and eight assists, Luis Scola added 14 points and nine rebounds, and Houston won its sixth straight. The Rockets were 13-15 in mid-December -- now they've won 15 of 19 games in 2008 and are on their longest winning streak since closing the 2004-05 regular season with seven consecutive victories.

"We've put ourselves in a great position to keep on moving up," said McGrady, healthy again after a respiratory infection hampered him earlier this week. "We're playing extremely well and we didn't want to take them lightly. It's all about business and taking care of home court."

Houston started the night in ninth place in the West. The Rockets play Portland and Sacramento at home before next week's All-Star break, two teams just below them in the standings.

"We understand the task at hand," McGrady said. "There's no reason for us to go out there and blow these games."

Josh Childress scored 18 and Zaza Pachulia had 11 points and nine rebounds for the Hawks, who've lost 10 of their last 11 road games and their last nine visits to Houston.

"Hopefully, we get a little fire after a loss like this," Childress said. "They kicked our butts from top to bottom."

The Rockets never trailed, dominating inside and holding Atlanta to one of its worst shooting nights of the season. The Rockets scored 54 points in the paint and finished with a season-high 32 assists, while the Hawks went 32-for-86 from the field (37 percent) and 0-for-5 from 3-point range. No Atlanta starter even reached double figures.

"We can't make any excuses," said Atlanta coach Mike Woodson. "We just didn't show up and should've stayed at the hotel. Our starters were lethargic and Houston is a very good team and came to play. Our energy level to start the game was nonexistent."

Houston opened the game with a 10-2 run as the sluggish Hawks missed five of their first six shots. The Rockets grabbed two offensive rebounds on one long possession and Yao spun for an easy layup, a sign of things to come.

The 6-foot-9 Scola, now a regular starter, had eight points and six rebounds in the opening quarter as Houston built a 30-16 lead. The Rockets went 13-for-23 in the period.

The Hawks missed nine of their first 10 shots of the second quarter and the Rockets stretched the lead to 46-25.

The Rockets scored 28 of their first 46 points in the paint, seemingly getting any shot they wanted down low. When Yao wasn't flipping in shots over 6-foot-10 Al Horford or the 6-11 Pachulia, his teammates were driving down the lane for layups.

"There wasn't ever a point where we lost our concentration," Rockets forward Shane Battier said.

In the closing seconds of the half, Battier threw a baseball pass to midcourt and Rafer Alston batted it to Scola, volleyball-style, for a layup that gave Houston a 56-31 halftime lead and typified Atlanta's night.

The Hawks shot 28 percent (12-of-43) in the first half and their point total was only one point better than a season low for an opening half.

"We still kept pushing them in the second quarter," Yao said. "That's how we want to defend."

The Rockets stayed in control in the third quarter, hitting four of their first six shots. Even when the Hawks made a play, they'd cancel it out with a miscue. Five minutes after halftime, Anthony Johnson picked off a steal then bounced a breakaway dunk high off the back of the rim.

The lead was 88-55 at the end of the third quarter and every Houston starter but Yao was done for the night. Yao checked out for good with 10:24 left in the game.

Game notes
The Hawks failed to make a 3-pointer for the fifth time this season. ... Late in the third quarter, Scola appeared to jam a finger on his left hand when Childress swatted the ball out of his hands. Scola went to the bench, grimacing in pain and did not return. ... The Hawks' 10 points in the second quarter were a season low for both Atlanta and a Houston opponent. ... Rockets G Luther Head sat out for the fourth straight game with a strained groin.

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