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Rockets, Magic win to force Game 7s

THE Houston Rockets came up with a stunning start to the game to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 95-80 yesterday, sending their Western Conference semifinal series into a deciding Game 7.

Aaron Brooks scored 26 points and Luis Scola added 24 points and 12 rebounds as the scrappy, undermanned Rockets pushed the top-seeded Lakers to the brink.

The Rockets opened the game with a 17-1 burst, built a 52-36 lead by halftime, then fought off a Lakers rally to force Game 7 on Sunday at the Staples Center.

Kobe Bryant scored 32 and Pau Gasol added 14 for Los Angeles, which lost for only the third time in the past 18 games when it had a chance to close out a series.

The Lakers have one more opportunity to finish off Houston, but they probably didn't expect to need it, three games after Houston center Yao Ming exited the series with a broken left foot.

"We still have no chance," Brooks said with a huge smile. "We'll keep playing, though."

The winner will play the Denver Nuggets, who finished off Dallas on Wednesday and now have a few extra days to rest.

Whereas Houston had built upon its first half lead on Sunday, this time Los Angeles made a game of it, opening the second half with a 16-2 spurt.

But the Rockets hit their last eight shots in the third quarter and took a 75-65 lead to the fourth. Kobe Bryant came into the game with six minutes left and the deficit still at 10 points, but missed four of his next six shots.

"We got active again against Kobe. He's going to make some shots. We toughed it out in the fourth quarter," Brooks said.

The Rockets scored 40 points in the paint and held Los Angeles to 36 percent shooting (30-for-84). The Lakers went only 5-for-23 from 3-point range.

Magic 83, Celtics 75

In Orlando, Florida, Dwight Howard had 23 points and 22 rebounds after challenging Stan Van Gundy's coaching strategy as Orlando beat Boston to force Game 7 in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Rashard Lewis had 20 points, and Hedo Turkoglu made a 3-pointer to highlight an 11-2 run to close the game for the Magic, who could dump the defending champions and reach the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in 13 years.

Rajon Rondo finished with 19 points, 16 rebounds and six assists, and Paul Pierce scored 17 for the Celtics, who led by 10 points in the second half before falling apart.

Game 7 is on Sunday in Boston.

The Celtics also failed to close out the Chicago Bulls in Game 6 of their first-round series, a triple-overtime epic. Boston will now go the distance in its first two series for the second straight year.

The two days off before Game 7 should give an older, worn out Boston team a chance to rest its tired legs. It's still not enough for coach Doc Rivers.

"I would take a week off and do it like the Super Bowl," Rivers joked. "That would be terrific. But that's not going to happen."

The Celtics held the Magic scoreless for more than five minutes to start the third quarter, building a 10-point lead on a jumper by Glen Davis. But Howard led the Magic back, with a backspin alley-oop from Turkoglu that highlighted a spurt to end the third quarter. Orlando took its first lead with 8:38 remaining in the fourth.

Pierce hit three straight jumpers to give Boston a 73-72 lead with about four minutes to play, but the Celtics were done in by their 3-for-18 shooting from 3-point range and 19 turnovers. Ray Allen missed all seven attempts from behind the arc.

"The offense definitely struggled," Pierce said. "But we still played enough defense to win the game. We turned the ball over too much."

Howard blamed Van Gundy for not getting the ball more after the Magic's Game 5 collapse, when they blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter.

"You've got a dominant player, let him be dominant," Howard said.

He came out trying to back up his strong words.

Howard scored the first eight points of the game for the Magic, including a pair of dunks that pumped some life into the home crowd. He finished 9-for-16 shooting.


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