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Depleted Rockets cruise past the Knicks

TRACY McGrady and Ron Artest were out, the Houston Rockets were just back from a five-game trip and facing a team that was going to force a fast pace.


Luis Scola had 18 points and 11 rebounds, Rafer Alston added 17 points and six assists and the undermanned Rockets didn't miss their two stars at all, taking advantage of New York's poor shooting to beat the Knicks 96-76 on Saturday night.

Aaron Brooks scored 16 points, Von Wafer had 15 and Yao Ming 14 for the Rockets, who've won nine of their last 10 home games.

Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni is implementing the same up-tempo system he ran successfully in Phoenix, and Alston said that style helped the Rockets overcome the absence of McGrady and Artest, two of Houston's top three scorers.

"You put Von out there, Aaron and myself, we're better suited to get up and down," Alston said. "If they were to slow it down, they had some mismatches out there. If they went to that, that probably would've suited them. But for us to go up and down like that, we had really had opportunities to match them speed for speed."

In other games around the league, it was: Jazz 99, Pistons 82; Trail Blazers 113, Warriors 100; Timberwolves 106, Bucks 104; Thunder 109, Bulls 98, OT; and Bobcats 92, Wizards 89.

McGrady was inactive because of a sore left knee, and Artest sat out for the fourth time in five games with a sprained right ankle, but the Knicks scored only 31 points in the second half and shot 35 percent overall.

"We did not get great shots," D'Antoni said. "Our ball movement wasn't good at all. It sapped our fire and then they got energy."

Houston has managed to win 24 of its first 39 games because players such as Wafer have produced when others have sat out with injuries. Houston led 46-45 at halftime and opened the third quarter with a 15-1 run when the Knicks missed their first 13 shots out of the break.

Houston took a 77-59 lead to the fourth quarter after the Knicks went 5-for-21 from the field with three turnovers, got outrebounded 18-6 and mustered only 14 points in the third quarter.

"Whether it was their good defense or our shooting was off, it's hard to tell," said New York's David Lee, who finished 6-for-13 from the field after hitting his first five shots. "It was a tough third quarter all around."

The Rockets outrebounded New York 60-38.

Thomas scored 18 points, Nate Robinson had 17 and Lee added 14 points and 11 rebounds for his eighth consecutive double-double for New York.

The Knicks surrounded Yao whenever he touched the ball, so Scola carried Houston's offense early. Lee outplayed Yao at the other end, scoring 10 points in the first nine minutes.

Both teams struggled to hit shots in the second quarter, including a ragged three-minute stretch without a single field goal for either side.

Yao put back two offensive rebounds and scored and Wafer sank a 3-pointer on a Rockets' fast break to put Houston up 42-36 just before the two-minute mark of the half.


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