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Francis' 27 points, Nelson's clutch shooting lifts Orlando

HOUSTON (AP) -- Steve Francis didn't have to say how happy he was
after leading the Orlando Magic to a victory over his former team.

His smile said it for him.

Francis scored 27 points and had two assists to Jameer Nelson in
the final two minutes Tuesday night as the Magic won for the first
time in four games, a 76-74 win over the Houston Rockets.

"It doesn't matter where we got it," Francis said. "We just
had to have a win. It didn't matter if it was here or at home."

Yeah, right.

Francis played for the Rockets from 1999-2004 and then was
traded in June 2004 in a blockbuster deal that brought Tracy
McGrady to Houston. With McGrady out three weeks with a back
injury, the stage belonged to Francis at the Toyota Center.

He was booed when he was introduced and almost every time he
touched the ball, but shook off the jeers to shoot 12-of-26 from
the field.

Francis broke into a smile in the closing seconds, then
enthusiastically slapped hands with friends at courtside -- right in
front of Rockets owner Les Alexander.

"I really enjoyed the win," Francis said. "It was a great
victory, especially against the Rockets."

Dwight Howard and DeShawn Stevenson each had 12 points and
Nelson scored all 10 of his in the final quarter for the Magic, who
won despite shooting 37.8 percent.

Yao Ming scored 17 points for Houston (1-2), which looked shaky
on offense for the second straight game without McGrady. The
Rockets lost 91-84 to New Orleans on Saturday.

"There will be things we'll have to correct," Houston coach
Jeff Van Gundy said. "I thought we played a cleaner game as far as
being efficient. We're just struggling."

But just like Saturday night, Houston had a chance to win,
leading 71-67 after a layup by Rafer Alston with 2:06 left.

The Rockets double-teamed Francis in the closing minutes, but
Francis twice dribbled into the lane and found Nelson open for
3-pointers that put Orlando up 73-71.

Nelson had gone 2-for-8 from 3-point range in Orlando's last
five games, including the last two of the preseason. He missed his
first three shots on Tuesday night before hitting a running
8-footer with 3:19 left. And then came the clutch 3-pointers.

"Nelson hasn't been making his shots lately. I told him to
stick with it," Francis said. "We knew he had to make a shot
sooner or later."

After Alston missed a 3-pointer, Francis again drew in the
Houston defense and passed to Nelson at the top of the key. This
time, Nelson drove to the basket and hit an acrobatic layup over
Yao with 51 seconds remaining.

"Steve told me to keep shooting and he's the team leader,"
Nelson said. "When he tells you to keep shooting, you keep
shooting. I know he's going to keep shooting, so if he tells me to,
why not?"

Yao and Alston missed point-blank shots in the last minute,
epitomizing the Rockets' struggles all night.

The Rockets open a daunting five-game road trip on Thursday in
Miami and they're hoping the change of venue improves their
shooting.

"We really played well on the road last year," Rockets guard
David Wesley said. "Maybe it's the hotel food or something, I
don't know. Maybe we can find a way to kind of get it together.
Hopefully, we can come back with some momentum."

The Rockets went 18-of-19 from the free throw line, but 4-of-16
from 3-point range.

An ugly first half ended with the Rockets up 39-38.

For the second straight game without McGrady, Van Gundy spent
the opening half tinkering with lineups. Yao scored 10 in the first
half and Stromile Swift was Houston's best reserve, adding six
points with five rebounds.

Francis had 15 of Orlando's first-half points on 7-of-13
shooting as the rest of the Magic went 9-of-26 from the field.

Yao picked up three fouls in the third quarter after getting
through the first half without getting any. The Rockets missed 10
of their 15 third-quarter shots and trailed 55-52 heading to the
fourth.

Game notes
The teams were meeting for the third time since the
seven-player trade that sent McGrady and Juwan Howard to the
Rockets and Francis to Orlando. Houston won both meetings last
season. ... Ryan Bowen started for Houston, just the 60th start of
his seven-year NBA career. ... Former Australian and French Open
champion Jim Courier watched the game at courtside and whacked
autographed tennis balls into the crowd during a timeout. ... The
Magic snapped a six-game losing streak to Houston.