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Guard denies Utah any chance of comeback

2/13/2003

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Houston's Steve Francis made sure Utah had
no chance at any last-second heroics this time.

Francis scored 36 points and Yao Ming had 11 of his 15 in the
second half as the Rockets continued to pull ahead in a 106-76 win
Wednesday night over the Jazz, who had won 24 hours before in
Houston.

"They're a veteran, savvy team. They win late in the game,
especially at home, so we had to keep playing hard," said Francis,
who scored 25 points in the first half. "Last night we kind of
game the game away."

James Posey and Maurice Taylor added 13 points each for the
Rockets, who snapped a three-game losing streak, improved to 1-2
against Utah this season and won at Delta Center for the first time
since 1996.

The Rockets were 40-for-76 from the floor (52.6 percent) and
forced 19 turnovers while handing the Jazz their worst loss since
New Orleans beat Utah 100-75 in the season opener. It also was
Houston's largest margin of victory of in the series, topping a
134-105 win in 1985.

"I think the most important factor and difference today was our
energy level," said Yao, who also had three blocked shots.
"Tonight was probably our most complete game this year because of
our energy level."

While the Rockets were running up and down the court, the Jazz
were listless.

Utah's Karl Malone, who broke his nose late in Tuesday night's
game, finished with 13 points -- seven below his average -- and sat
out the fourth quarter. Andrei Kirilenko led Utah with 15 points,
and John Stockton had 10 points but just one assist. Matt Harpring
finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

"I thought we'd come out and play aggressive right from the
start. We didn't and we were digging uphill the rest of the night.
And not very well," Stockton said.

It was the Jazz's last game without coach Jerry Sloan, who will
return from a seven-game suspension -- for pushing an official _
Friday night when Washington visits Utah. The Jazz went 4-3 under
assistant Phil Johnson during Sloan's suspension.

Eddie Griffin scored 10 points for the Rockets, who had lost 11
straight games at Delta Center. Houston had lost eight of its
previous 11.

"Whatever way they come, we need the wins. By 30, by 10, by
two, we just really need to win games," said Francis, who was
11-for-19.

Houston was still stinging from Tuesday night's 103-101 loss -- a
game the Rockets were on the verge of winning until Harpring hit a
last-second 3-pointer to force overtime.

There was no danger of a last-minute collapse Wednesday as the
Rockets extended a 12-point halftime lead to 24 in the third
quarter by going 11-for-21 from the floor and holding the Jazz to
16-for-35 shooting.

"You never want to count on comebacks. It's a hard way to
win," Stockton said. "You want to come out and play well from the
start and set the tone -- clearly what they did instead of us."

After the Rockets scored the first five points of the third
period, Utah made a short-lived run. Stockton's three-point play
with 7:39 left in the quarter cut the lead to 59-46, then Posey
started a 13-4 run with a 3-pointer, and the Rockets coasted the
rest of the way.

It was more of the same in the fourth quarter. With starters
from both teams on the bench and the game well out of hand, Houston
went up by as many as 33 points before it was over.

"We've had some thrills this year," Houston coach Rudy
Tomjanovich said. "Young teams are emotional and sometimes the
wrong way. Tonight we used it in the positive."

Game notes
Francis had 16 points in the first quarter and scored 21 of
Houston's first 31 points. ... Utah's Greg Ostertag beat Yao on the
opening tip and had three blocks in the first quarter. ... Malone
left the game with 30.9 seconds left in the second quarter after
taking an elbow to the face from teammate John Amaechi. The
accidental hit got Malone's nose bleeding again. Malone returned,
but had just five points in the second half.

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