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Rockets send Raptors to 12th straight loss

3/6/2002

HOUSTON (AP) -- There was little agreement on how much former
Rockets franchise player Hakeem Olajuwon affected the start of
Houston's game with Toronto.

But there was no question how much current Rockets franchise
player Steve Francis affected the outcome as he took over the game
in the third quarter Tuesday night, leading Houston from 17 points
down to a 112-109 victory.

The Raptors lost their 12th straight game.

It was the first game back for Olajuwon since being traded to
Toronto last August after 16 seasons with the Rockets. Olajuwon,
who played 1,177 games for Houston, was given his customary
"Hak-e-e-em the Dre-e-e-a-m" introduction, and the crowd went
wild during a 1-minute, 15-second standing ovation before the game.

"It was very nice for the fans to do that and I'm very happy
they did," Olajuwon said. "It was what I expected, but I'm still
very happy to get the warm welcome. Ever since I left Houston to go
to Toronto I thought about what coming home would be like and this
was very nice."

But the 39-year-old Olajuwon didn't figure much in the outcome,
scoring only seven points and getting seven rebounds in 25 minutes.

"Everybody knew it was going to be a significant night, with
Dream coming back to play for the first time," Francis said.
"There was a lot of emotion on the court from the coaches, the
fans and the players. I think everybody was feeling something."

The Raptors were led, as usual, by Vince Carter. On his way to
tying his season high with 43 points, Carter hit his first five
shots. Jerome Williams hit seven of his first eight as the
seemingly inspired Raptors led by as many as 16 in the first half.
They stretched the lead to as many as 17 early in the second half.

That emotion seemed to drain the Rockets, but Walt Williams
didn't think Olajuwon's presence caused it.

"We just had a long flight (Sunday) night," Williams said. "I
think we were still sluggish from that."

Whatever it was, Francis woke them up. He scored 17 in the third
quarter on his way to 35 for the night.

"When you're hot, you're hot," said Cuttino Mobley, who added
23 points. "(Francis) carried us."

He also extended Toronto's tailspin, which ties Miami and
Cleveland for the second-longest losing streak in the NBA this
season. Houston had the worst, losing 15 in a row at one point.

"He shot the ball very well," Carter said of Francis. "He
made a few 3s and got some transition baskets with steals and
layups. He put their team on his back in the third quarter ... he
did a great job that period and everybody else fed off that."

Raptors coach Lenny Wilkens wasn't sure what caused his team's
mid-game turnaround.

"We came out on fire and hopefully Dream helped that some,"
Wilkens said. "That's the best start we've had in a while.

"But they got back in the game in the third quarter. We had
some crucial turnovers in that period and they got some easy
buckets that really hurt us. I don't think we were hesitant, but we
definitely gave them the momentum and that hurt us."

Francis took most of that momentum and he thought the crowd of
14,221 that cheered Olajuwon was instrumental in the comeback.

"It was great," Francis said. "We seldom get this many people
in the building. They really got in the game."

Coach Rudy Tomjanovich agreed.

"I got goose bumps," Tomjanovich said of the ovation for
Olajuwon. "He deserved that and much more. But we finally got a
great crowd and didn't give them anthing else to cheer about in the
first half. It's unfortunate human nature that you have to get
backed into a corner before you come out swinging."

In the final period, Carter had seven points early as Toronto
outscored Houston 15-6 to take a 100-94 lead with 6:45 to play. But
Mobley scored five and Francis four in a run that gave Houston a
109-103 lead with 1:25 to play.

Two free throws by Francis with 10 seconds to play and one more
by Moochie Norris with :06 remaining sewed it up.

Game notes
The Rockets are 6-1 vs. Toronto in Houston. ... Kevin
Willis needs four more appearances to tie John Havlicek for 10th
place on the NBA's games played list. ... The Raptors are 8-5 in
games decided by three points or fewer. ... Toronto is 12-1 when
scoring 100 or more points this season. ... The game was officiated
by only two referees after Blane Reichelt came up with the flu just
before gametime.