Yao Ming scored 24 points and pulled down 17 rebounds to spark the home-loving Houston Rockets to a 93-83 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday. "Our defence was a lot better today and when you play at home, you always feel stronger," Yao said after Houston recorded a 12th consecutive victory at the Toyota Center. "The crowd gives you a lot of energy and that helps with your success."
Yao also had three of nine blocked by for the Rockets (41-23), the Western Conference's third-ranked team. "We just wanted to send a message both to our opponent and also to ourselves that we need to play strong," Yao added after his 30th double-double of the season. "We cannot play like we played the last two times against them in their house," Yao said of the Rockets, who lost in Memphis on Dec 8 and Feb 4. "We wanted to set a tone for the game."
The giant Chinese centre had 11 points in the first quarter when Houston opened up a 28-19 lead. The margin stretched to 18 late in the second and the Rockets were on cruise control for the remainder of the game. Luis Scola added 18 points and 14 rebounds for Houston. "Yao and Luis really controlled the boards for us," the Rockets coach Rick Adelman said, adding the previous defeat to Memphis had spurred his team on.
"We talked about that a lot and we knew we needed to be focused," he said. "That's one of the things that we really took care of tonight." Rudy Gay scored 21 points for an out-of-sorts Memphis (16-46), who have won only once in 11 games. "You have to give them a lot of respect because they force you out of your rhythm," Gay said. "Yao makes it real tough inside." Elsewhere, Dwight Howard turned in a powerful all-round game to lift the Orlando Magic to an 86-79 victory over the Boston Celtics on Sunday and tighten up the race for Eastern Conference seedings.
Howard scored 18 points, pulled down 15 rebounds and blocked five shots as the Magic charged to a seven-point first-quarter lead and extended it to 18 by the half to go 51-33 in front. The Celtics nearly made the Magic's extended 22-point lead disappear, drawing to within three points before Howard sank a pair of free throws with 13.9 seconds left to make sure of victory. Hedo Turkoglu also scored 16 points and Rashard Lewis had 15 in Orlando's balanced attack.
Orlando improved to 46-16 with the victory and have just one more loss than defending NBA champion Celtics (49-15), who wasted a 32-point contribution by Ray Allen. He scored 17 points in a blistering fourth-quarter performance, including nine straight points to make it 82-79 with just over a minute left to play. His three-point effort with 41 seconds left hit the back rim. The defeat gave Boston two more losses than East Conference leading Cleveland Cavaliers (49-13).
* With agencies