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Rockets, Magic go through; Bulls alive

RON Artest scored a game-high 27 points as the Houston Rockets crushed the Portland Trail Blazers 92-76 on Thursday to advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.

Chinese center Yao Ming chipped in with 17 points and 10 rebounds to help Houston wrap up its best-of-seven series 4-2. The Rockets face the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers next.

"This is a big step for me," Yao told reporters. "It felt great when the clock was running down, I still can't believe it. We know we have to keep moving forward."

LaMarcus Aldridge scored 26 points and Brandon Roy had 22 for Portland, despite carrying a knee injury sustained in the first quarter.

In the Eastern Conference, the Orlando Magic overcame the absence of suspended center Dwight Howard and injured guard Courtney Lee to close out their first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers 4-2 with a 114-89 victory.

Top-scorer Rashard Lewis poured 29 points to reach double figures, including Rafer Alston with 21.

Andre Miller scored a team-high 24 points and Andre Iguodala shot 20 for the 76ers, who trailed by 11 points after the first quarter and never mounted a charge.

Orlando awaits the winner of the first-round series between the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls, the latter forcing a deciding seventh game after prevailing in a triple overtime thriller in Game 6 in Chicago on Thursday.

A slam-dunk

A steal, a slam-dunk and a free throw by Bulls' center Joakim Noah with 35 seconds left sealed a 128-127 victory over Boston to keep the series alive.

"I felt like it took forever to get to that basket," said Noah, son of former French Open tennis champion Yannick. "Words can't really describe it. We're still alive."

"We just didn't want to lose. We'll go back to Boston and see what happens," Bulls Rookie-of-the-Year Derrick Rose said after finishing with 28 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and a final-second block in third OT.

Chicago had blown a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter and needed two clutch goals from backup center Brad Miller to pull level with 30 seconds left in regulation.

Forward John Salmons top-scored for the Bulls with 35 points, including a key layup with two minutes left in double OT.

Boston guard Ray Allen's made a playoff career-high 51 points, including a 25-foot three-pointer to level the score with seven seconds left in the second overtime.

The often ill-tempered series, which has already had an NBA record four OT finishes, goes down to the wire in Boston tomorrow.

Tempers flared as early as the first quarter when Boston's Rajon Rondo, who Chicago felt was guilty of rough play earlier in the series, clashed with Kirk Hinrich. Miller played with seven stitches in his mouth following last Tuesday's hit from Rondo, who was called for a flagrant foul this time. He had eight points and 19 assists.


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