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McGrady scores 23, Rockets deal woeful Wolves 12th straight loss

MINNEAPOLIS -- From dunking on a player 8 inches taller and 55 pounds heavier than he is to swatting away shots and chasing after loose balls, Al Jefferson is trying everything he can to snap the Minnesota Timberwolves out of this miserable slump.

Yet nothing seems to be working.

Tracy McGrady scored 23 points and the Houston Rockets made 12 3-pointers to hand the Timberwolves their 12th straight loss, 109-102 on Saturday night.

Aaron Brooks had 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Rockets, who have won three in a row and seven of their last nine.

Dwarfed by Yao Ming on the block, Jefferson turned it into a mismatch in Minnesota's favor with 34 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. But it wasn't enough to stop a losing streak that matched the franchise's longest skid since a 12-gamer at the end of the 1993-94 season.

"Keep your head up, keep fighting," Jefferson said. "That's all you've got to do."

Randy Foye hit two 3-pointers in the final minute to cut an 18-point deficit to three at 105-102, but the Timberwolves couldn't get a stop when they needed one most.

Yao came right back with a leaner just outside the paint over Jefferson to pad the lead. Houston shot 53 percent for the game.

"When you got a 7-foot-6 guy fading away and hitting jumpers, there's not [much] you can do about it," Jefferson said. "It's just so frustrating."

Yao finished with 18 points, but was pushed around by Jefferson for most of the game.

On two occasions, Jefferson buried his shoulder into Yao's chest, then dunked right in the 7-foot-6 center's face to try and infuse his downtrodden team with some energy.

"That's the way you've got to go at him," Jefferson said. "You have to make him feel uncomfortable."

But the Wolves put so much attention on Yao on the offensive end that Houston got plenty of open looks from the perimeter. The Rockets hit 3-pointers on three straight possessions -- two by Brooks and one by Ron Artest -- to keep the Wolves at arm's length midway through the final period.

"We're a pretty good 3-point shooting team," coach Rick Adelman said. "We get our feet set and move the ball around, and we've got a lot of guys who are capable of making them."

Minnesota's chances took a serious blow in the first quarter, when sharpshooter Mike Miller went down with a sprained right ankle, the same injury that caused him to miss four games at the start of the month.

For a team shooting an NBA-worst 43 percent to start the night, losing their best perimeter shooter in the first 6 minutes of the game proved too much to overcome.

The hearty few who braved a winter storm in hopes of seeing the streak come to an end -- including Santa and Mrs. Claus sitting courtside -- saw a familiar scene play out. Their team missed open shot after open shot on the offensive end, then allowed too many easy looks on defense as the slide continued.

"We couldn't get over the hump," said Wolves coach Kevin McHale, who fell to 0-7 since taking over for Randy Wittman last week.

Foye finished with 24 points and six assists and Rashad McCants had 16 for Minnesota.

"Listen, the Boston Celtics are not giving that lead back. The Lakers are not giving that lead back. And Cleveland is not giving that lead back," Houston forward Shane Battier said. "Those are the three teams we're chasing right now and if we ever want to get on their level, we need to do what they do."

Game notes
Rockets G Brent Barry missed his 10th straight game with a leg injury. Coach Rick Adelman said he is still day-to-day. ... Battier accidentally punted a ball about 15 rows up into the seats midway through the first quarter and into the arms of a surprised fan. "Wake up!" Battier shouted.