Nets overcome Yao's 36-point performance in win

HOUSTON (AP) -- Vince Carter drove down the lane, muscled in an off-balance layup and got fouled by Rick Brunson in the second quarter of New Jersey's 90-77 win over Houston on Monday night.

With a hint of a smile, Carter playfully pointed his finger to the fans, making sure they knew he was about to convert a three-point play.

Carter enjoyed the rest of his night just as much, scoring 29 points to lead the Nets to their third win in eight games.

"It was a fun game," said Carter, who also had six rebounds and seven assists.

Jason Kidd had 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, his sixth triple-double of the season. Kidd has 73 career triple-doubles and needs five to tie Wilt Chamberlain for third all-time.

Clifford Robinson added 15 points for the Nets, who have won all 28 games they've led after three quarters.

Robinson hit two 3-pointers and Carter sank four. The Nets went 11-for-22 from the 3-point line, one shy of a season-high.

"Our effort and our execution were the keys to our victory," Carter said. "If we play like that, we're tough to beat."

Yao Ming scored 36 points for the Rockets, playing their third straight game without Tracy McGrady, who's out up to five weeks with another back injury.

Yao, who was averaging 27.5 points and 13 rebounds in 10 games since the All-Star break, went 9-of-17 from the field, most of them quick turnaround hook shots. He also went 18-for-20 from the free throw line and grabbed nine rebounds.

The rest of the team, though, shot 17-of-59 from the field. The Rockets shot 17-of-55 over the final three quarters, when they were outscored 70-51.

"We didn't want Yao to dominate down low, but the thing that makes it tough, you have to give up something," Carter said. "If he's getting his, you just can't let everyone else have a good night."

Yao had 10 points in the first six minutes, and the Rockets built an early nine-point lead.

Carter missed five of his first six shots, part of a 7-for-22 start for the Nets. But New Jersey went 8-of-12 during a 16-6 run early in the second quarter.

Carter's driving layup and resulting three-point play gave the Nets their first lead, 29-28.

"I wanted to be aggressive and be a playmaker," Carter said, "whatever it took."

Yao had 19 at the break, but New Jersey led 47-41 by holding the rest of the Rockets to 10-for-34 shooting in the first half.

Carter had a fadeaway jumper and a 3-pointer during an 11-2 Nets run to open the second half. Rafer Alston hit a running one-hander, but Robinson sank a 3-pointer to put New Jersey up 59-45.

The Rockets got within seven, but Carter sank three more 3-pointers in the final 4:20 of the third quarter and the Nets led 68-55 heading to the fourth. The Rockets got no closer than nine in the fourth quarter.

Yao blamed the loss on Houston's defense more than the bad shooting.

"Our team is a defensive team and I think in the last two games, we haven't been defending well," he said. "We need to focus on our defensive game."

Kidd notched the triple-double when he passed to Richard Jefferson for a 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds left.

Houston has lost two in a row after winning seven of the previous nine. The Rockets have lost two of three since McGrady was sidelined for the fourth time this season with a back injury.

McGrady sat out for the 16th time because of his ailing back. Doctors say his latest injury resulted from a fall in the Rockets' win at Portland on March 5. McGrady had an MRI on Saturday and was undergoing more tests in the next two days, the Rockets said.

Houston dropped to 1-15 in the games McGrady has missed because of his bad back. David Wesley, the only Rocket who'd played in all 63 games this season, also sat out after cracking a rib in Sunday's loss at San Antonio.

"Those are good players and very good teammates and, obviously, that's bad for us," Yao said. "But we have to live with it."

Game notes
Houston cut G Gerald Fitch less than a month after acquiring him from Miami. Fitch had been playing with Austin in the developmental league. ...Yao missed a free throw with 6:03 left in
the first half, ending a streak of 31 consecutive makes. ...The Rockets' shooting percentage (34.2 percent) tied a season low.