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No Yao? No problem for Rockets

THE Houston Rockets shrugged off the loss of Yao Ming to stun the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers 99-87 on Sunday and level their Western Conference semifinal series at 2-2.

The Eastern Conference semifinal series between Boston and Orlando is also tied at 2-2 after the Celtics' Glen Davis hit a jump shot at the buzzer for a 95-94 victory over the Magic.

Houston guard Aaron Brooks scored a career-high 34 points in the shock home-court win over the Lakers as the Rockets coped admirably without Yao, who broke his left foot in Friday's loss.

"We will never count ourselves out," Brooks said. "If anybody is ready for this it would be us. We've been through a lot this year. Mac (Tracy McGrady) being out, Deke (Dikembe Mutombo) being out, Shane (Battier) being out at the beginning of the year. Now we have Yao out. It seems like we keep going. We're used to it."

Houston scored the game's first nine points and built a 29-point lead by the end of the third quarter.

"Playing the way we did the first three quarters was just incredible," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said.

Battier added 23 points, including five three-pointers, and Luis Scola had 14 rebounds and 11 points.

The Lakers scored 33 points in the fourth quarter but could not overhaul the Rockets.

"We blew a great opportunity," the Lakers' Kobe Bryant said. "I've been on teams that have made this dumb mistake before."

Pau Gasol scored 30 points for the Lakers, who host Game 5 tomorrow, while Bryant had only 15, making just seven of 17 shots.

"They shot the ball extremely well to start the game to put us in a hole," Bryant said. "I just don't think we started the game with the right energy, the right focus."

Lakers coach Phil Jackson warned his team about taking the Rockets too lightly after hearing about Yao's injury. But the Lakers looked lethargic from the start, giving away careless turnovers and playing lax defense.

The Rockets opened the game with a 22-7 run, starting 4-of-5 from three-point range. Bryant scored the Lakers' first three baskets, but the rest of the team missed its first seven shots.

The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 29-18 in the decisive third quarter, led by Brooks' 17 points. The speedy, six-foot guard finished the quarter by catching a midcourt pass by Ron Artest and putting in a layup just before the buzzer.

Lamar Odom, who scored 16 points in Game 3, drove into Battier and was called for a charge midway through the quarter. He hit the floor hard, limped to the bench and went to the locker room with back spasms. He did not return.

In Orlando, Florida, Paul Pierce had 27 points with Davis and Rajon Rondo scoring 21 each as the defending NBA champions squeezed out the win.

The Magic wiped out an eight-point Celtics' lead to go ahead twice - first on two free throws by Dwight Howard with 49.6 seconds to play and again on a pair by Rashard Lewis with 11.3 seconds remaining.

Davis then beat the buzzer for the win. Boston hosts Game 5 tomorrow.


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