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McGrady' hits key 3 in OT; Yao adds 23 and 14

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Tracy McGrady and the Houston Rockets are
functioning quite well together, a concept the Minnesota
Timberwolves are desperately trying to relearn.

McGrady had 40 points, 13 rebounds and a clutch 3-pointer in
overtime to lead the Rockets to a 119-113 victory over the
Timberwolves on Friday night.

"We've got guys that are sacrificing," said McGrady, who
scored nine points in the extra period. "That's what it's going to
take to be a good team -- guys sacrificing what they sometimes do
best."

Yao Ming added 23 points and 14 rebounds, and Juwan Howard had
13 points and 14 rebounds for Houston -- which took a 112-107 lead
with 2:05 left in overtime on McGrady's fourth 3-pointer. The
Rockets went 9-for-14 from 3-point range.

"Our defense has slipped a little bit," Bob Sura said, "but
we've made up for it on the other end."

Minnesota's Sam Cassell had 24 points and 11 assists, but missed
a potential game-winner at the end of the fourth quarter.

Kevin Garnett had 22 points and 14 rebounds, Trenton Hassell
scored a season-high 19 points and Wally Szczerbiak added 18 points
for Minnesota -- which lost its fourth straight and was outrebounded
for the ninth consecutive time.

"When you look at our previous three performances, we made
strides," coach Flip Saunders said. "But not enough strides."

The Wolves, who missed their first six shots from the field in
the extra period, cut it to 115-113 on a driving layup by Cassell
with 13.5 seconds left. But McGrady made four free throws in the
closing seconds.

"McGrady just had an unbelievable night," said Minnesota's
Fred Hoiberg. "Trenton did as good a job as he can possibly do,
and he still scored 40."

This was an important game for playoff positioning, because the
Rockets (27-21) and Timberwolves (24-23) entered as the seventh-
and ninth-place teams in the loaded Western Conference.

Houston finished a four-game road trip at 3-1 and has won six of
seven away from home. Time is starting to run out for Minnesota,
which advanced to the conference finals last season.

"The six-seven-eight spots are really tight," McGrady said.
"Who knows if it's going to come down to a tiebreaker? They beat
us at home, so now we're one-one. This was a crucial game for us."

Sura and Cassell, once teammates at Florida State, each missed
long field goals with less than 2 minutes to go in regulation.
Sura's next attempt was off again, but Cassell sank a vintage
17-footer over David Wesley that gave the Wolves a 104-102 lead
with 27 seconds remaining.

McGrady answered with a smooth jumper that retied the game with
12.8 seconds left, and Cassell -- repeating the same shot -- came up
short this time.

After a 29-point loss to Phoenix at home on Wednesday night, the
Timberwolves skipped practice -- per usual routine following
back-to-back games. They went together across the street to an
arcade for some bowling, rejuvenation and rekindling of their
camaraderie.

Minnesota built a 33-26 lead after one period and was in front
for most of the first half -- playing with more energy than earlier
in the week.

Third quarters haven't been kind to the Wolves, who were
significantly outscored (31-17 by Sacramento, 23-11 by Milwaukee
and 35-15 by Phoenix) during the period while losing their past
three games.

And this one was no different, with the Rockets outscoring them
29-21 en route to a 83-79 lead.

Yao, who fumbled with the ball often and looked out of his
element in the first half, got it going after halftime and scored
seven points in the third.

Houston went 9-for-12 from the foul line, and Minnesota never
even made it there. The Rockets grabbed seven offensive rebounds,
and the Wolves got one.

"Rebounding is effort," Garnett said. "It's saying, 'I want
this,' and then being in position to do it. You've got to go get
them. They just don't come to you."

Game notes
After losing his shoe on the offensive end early in the
third quarter, Garnett picked up the stray sneaker and carried it
in one hand as he jogged back to play defense. Howard playfully
swiped at it, and Garnett wound up holding his opponent in a bear
hug to get a foul called and the clock stopped. ... Saunders used
his 12th different starting lineup combination this season and the
third in as many games -- Garnett, Cassell, Hassell, Latrell
Sprewell and Michael Olowokandi. Olowokandi fouled out in 9
scoreless minutes. ... Houston is 14-6 since acquiring Wesley from
New Orleans.