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Pierce hot as Celts cool Heat

PAUL Pierce and Ray Allen combined in a strong fourth quarter to lead the Boston Celtics to a 105-98 win over the Miami Heat on Friday.

Pierce scored nine of his 28 points and Allen had seven of his 21 in the final seven minutes to help the Celtics post their sixth successive victory and 60th of the year.

The win gives the reigning National Basketball Association champions a two-game lead over the Orlando Magic for the second seed in the Eastern Conference with three games remaining.

"It takes a great amount of focus (to win 60)," Allen told reporters. "We have a bunch of selfless individuals and regardless of who was in there everybody focused on their job and what they needed to do to make this team better."

Dwyane Wade led the Heat with 31 points and nine assists, while rookie Michael Beasley scored 23 points and 13 rebounds in a losing effort.

Despite the loss, Miami retained the fifth-seed position in the Eastern Conference.

Elsewhere in the NBA, it was: Rockets 113, Warriors 109; Trail Blazers 106, Lakers 98; Cavaliers 102, 76ers 92; Spurs 105, Jazz 99; Mavericks 100, Hornets 92; Knicks 105, Magic 95; Hawks 122, Pacers 118; Pistons 100, Nets 93; Grizzlies 106, Suns 89; Wizards 100, Raptors 98; and Clippers 109, Kings 78.

In Boston, both teams entered the game missing several injured players.

Boston's Kevin Garnett missed his 19th game in the last 23 while trying to recover from a knee injury before the postseason starts and power forward Leon Powe is still out with knee condition.

Miami saw the return of second-year guard Daequan Cook, who missed the team's last game with a sore shoulder, but forward Udonis Haslem is out for the rest of the regular season with a thumb injury.

Pierce tallied 21 second-half points to help settle a tight game. He made two free throws to break a 95-95 tie with 1:37 left and, after a jumper by Glen Davis, added two more to give the Celtics a 101-95 lead with 32 seconds to go. Davis finished with 22 points and eight rebounds while Pierce added eight rebounds for Boston.

In Oakland, California, Houston maintained its hold on third seed in the Western Conference by edging Golden State.

Luis Scola had a career-high 28 points, and Dikembe Mutombo had 10 points and 15 rebounds.

Making a rare start after center Yao Ming was scratched because of a sore foot, the 42-year-old Mutombo blocked four shots and played a season-high 36 minutes while helping the Rockets complete a four-game season sweep of the Warriors.

Houston remained a half-game in front of Portland and San Antonio for the third seed in the West.


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