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Yao scores 21 in third quarter

1/25/2004

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Orlando's weak interior defense didn't
stand a chance against Yao Ming.

Houston's center continued his recent stellar play by scoring 21
of his career-high 37 points in the third quarter, leading the
Rockets to a 99-87 victory over the Magic on Sunday night.

"Our goal is to play effective basketball and not to break
records," said Yao, whose previous high was 30. "Of course, if I
can score more points I will try to score more points."

Houston has won six of its last seven games and Yao, with 10
rebounds against Orlando, registered double-doubles in all the
victories. In his last seven games, Yao is averaging 22.9 points
and 11.3 rebounds.

"Obviously, not too many teams have a weapon like that other
than the Lakers," Rockets reserve point guard Mark Jackson said.
"The guy is so big and skilled, it's unbelievable. He's a big guy
with great hands, great touch and he makes you look good."

Orlando is challenged inside even against average players, and
the 7-foot-6, 310-pound Yao is anything but average. Also, Magic
coach Johnny Davis decided against double-teaming unless Yao was
dribbling while backing down his defender.

That put Orlando center Andrew DeClercq, eight inches shorter
and 55 pounds lighter, in a very lonely place.

"I told Andrew, 'Hold your ground as best you can," Davis
said. "We were going to give him help on the dribble, but it
didn't get there the way it should have."

While Yao was making a career-high 15 field goals in 23
attempts, DeClercq was knocked to the floor twice and bulled out of
the way another time. DeClercq more often than not got a hand in
Yao's face on his jumpers, but to little effect.

Reserve center Zaza Pachulia fared no better, fouling Yao twice
within a minute during the third quarter.

"I didn't want to be passive and let them come and defend me,"
Yao said. "I wanted to attack them."

Yao scored 15 straight points for the Rockets in the third. For
the period, he made seven of 11 shots and sank all seven of his
free throws. His two free throws at the 2:27 mark of the third
quarter broke his previous career best, set Nov. 21, 2002 at
Dallas.

Despite Yao's performance, Houston led by just seven entering
the fourth quarter after Tracy McGrady scored 14 of his 31 points
in the third.

"Yeah, I had the hot streak," McGrady said. "But it didn't
matter because they were coming down and Yao was doing the same
thing."

Yao came out 39 seconds into the fourth, but the Rockets found a
way to get another big man going inside. Maurice Taylor extended
Houston's lead to 87-75 by scoring 10 straight points

Taylor finished with 20 points, shooting 8-for-13, and eight
rebounds.

"He was another guy who just kind of beat us on the interior,"
Davis said.

The Rockets led by 11 with five minutes to go when Yao checked
back in. Two minutes later, he hit a 17-foot jumper that gave
Houston a 97-80 advantage.

Houston's big men needed to step up because Steve Francis had a
poor game. The Rockets' leading scorer only had seven points -- 10
below his average -- while missing eight of 11 shots. His first
field goal didn't come until 38.2 seconds remained in the third
quarter.

Jackson filled in as playmaker, coming off the bench for 10
assists.

"Mark Jackson played a great game on the offensive end,"
Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "He kept us organized and made
some terrific passes."

Game notes
Orlando guard Keith Bogans sat out the second half after
bruising his right leg in a second-quarter collision with Yao. ...
Houston has won five straight from Orlando, although the Magic's
home record against the Rockets is 12-4. ... Before the game,
Orlando activated rookie guard Reece Gaines from the injured list.
He had been out since Dec. 5 with right knee patella tendinitis and
missed the last 26 games. He went scoreless in three minutes of
garbage time.