Loss drops Houston out of playoff picture


SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- The San Antonio Spurs moved a little closer
toward Dallas for the top spot in the Western Conference.

As a bonus, the Spurs pushed Houston back a step in the playoff race.

Stephen Jackson scored 27 points, 11 of them during a key
third-quarter run, and Tim Duncan added 25 points, 14 rebounds and
eight assists to help San Antonio win 98-85 Thursday night.

The Spurs (51-20) trail the league-leading Mavericks by three
games with 11 to play.

"We want to accomplish the same things we wanted at the
beginning of the season," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of his
team's goals down the stretch. "We want to be in a set offensively
when it counts and make a stop when it counts."

The Rockets (37-35) slipped a half-game behind idle Phoenix for
the eighth and final postseason spot.

"What can I say?" said Houston guard Steve Francis, who was
limited to eight points and didn't play at all in the final period.
"We ran into a buzzsaw."

Francis and acting coach Larry Smith blamed the loss mostly on
fatigue, after the team played its seventh game in 10 days

"We gave them baskets they shouldn't have got," said Smith,
who is standing in while Rudy Tomjanovich undergoes cancer
treatment. "Stephen Jackson had some good looks, and he knocked
them down."

Cuttino Mobley, who led the Rockets with 21 points, was less
willing to offer excuses for the loss.

"Seven games in 10 days -- that's the NBA. You've got to live
with it,'' he said. "One day we'll learn to win those games."

Jackson's third-quarter burst included a pair of 3-pointers that
extended San Antonio's 11-point halftime lead to as many as 20
midway through the period.

The Rockets trimmed the lead to 11 in the final period, but
Jackson stopped San Antonio's slide by hitting the last of his five
3-pointers with 5:16 remaining.

"Our guys on the perimeter are invaluable," Spurs center David
Robinson said. "They are breaking down the other teams' defenses,
and if they miss shots, we are there to rebound them and put them

Maurice Taylor added 15 points for the Rockets. Rookie center
Yao Ming played only 16 minutes and finished with two points on
1-for-9 shooting to go with three rebounds.

San Antonio jumped to a 16-6 lead in the opening minutes by
making seven of its first 10 shots, while holding Houston to only
3-for-10 shooting.

James Posey hit a baseline jumper, an alley-oop dunk and then a
3-pointer to lead a Rockets run that cut the Spurs' lead to 22-20
late in the first quarter.

Houston lost its shooting touch again in the second period as
the Spurs built their lead to 48-35. Mobley's second basket of the
half capped the scoring.

Duncan scored 15 points on 7-for-9 shooting in the half, while
Francis, Mobley and Yao -- the Rocket's top scorers -- managed only
4-for-18 shooting for nine points.

Game notes
Parker, who sprained his right wrist in Tuesday's win over
Milwaukee, played with the wrist taped. ... San Antonio, at 51-20,
can still match its all-time best record of 62-20, set in 1994-95.
The team is 32-7 since Jan. 1. ... Yao averaged 17.3 points and
11.7 rebounds in the first three games against the Spurs this
season. ... Francis, averaging 21.8 points a game, was held to only
10 points on 5-for-24 FG in Houston's two games at the SBC Center.
... Francis was called for a technical after picking up his third
foul early in the third period, and teammate Kelvin Cato was
whistled for a technical early in the fourth.