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Rockets close on Southwest crown

THE Houston Rockets moved within one win of the NBA's Southwest Division title with an 86-66 win over the New Orleans Hornets today.

Yao Ming scored 22 points to lead the way for Houston, while Luis Scola grabbed 15 rebounds.

If the Rockets win their regular-season finale in Dallas on Wednesday, they'll secure their first division championship for 15 years. But in the tight Western Conference, Houston could also slip to fifth place - and lose home-court advantage in the first round - with a loss to the Mavericks.

The Hornets shot only 35 percent from the field and their 66 points were a season low.

Cavaliers 117, Pacers 109

In Indianapolis, Cleveland clinched the NBA's best record and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs by beating Indiana.

Getting the home-court edge was especially important because Cleveland has a 39-1 record at home, the best in the league.

LeBron James scored 37 points to lead the Cavaliers, who won their fifth straight.

Bucks 98, Magic 80

In Milwaukee, Orlando slipped to a third straight loss by a lowly opponent, beaten easily by Milwaukee.

Richard Jefferson scored 24 points for the Bucks in their home finale, providing a late hight note to an otherwise offkey season.

The Magice was playing without Dwight Howard and two other starters.

Orlando was coming off losses to New York and New Jersey, but is locked in the No. 3 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.

Spurs 101, Warriors 72

In Oakland, California, San Antonio kept pace with Houston atop the Southwest Division by crushing Golden State.

Tony Parker scored 17 points and Tim Duncan added 16 points and 13 rebounds before both stars sat out the fourth quarter.

The Spurs won their third straight to pull even at 53-28 with the Rockets and Portland.

If Houston and San Antonio both win their regular-season finales, the Rockets will win a tiebreaker and get the No. 3 playoff seed, while San Antonio could end up starting the postseason on the road against the Trail Blazers unless Dallas knocks off Houston.

The Warriors had just seven available players.

Bulls 91, Pistons 88

In Auburn Hills, Michigan, Ben Gordon made a tiebreaking layup with 15 seconds left, and Chicago locked Detroit in the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The loss means the Pistons will face Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs. The Bulls lead Philadelphia by a half-game for sixth.

Chicago overcame a double-digit deficit in the second half.

Trail Blazers 113, Thunder 83

In Portland, Oregon, Portland notched a fifth straight win by cruising past Oklahoma City.

Travis Outlaw had 21 points as a last-minute starter, Brandon Roy had 20 points and Greg Oden had 16 points and nine rebounds.

The Thunder have lost six of their past seven games.

The Blazers, who have clinched their first postseason berth since 2002-03, are jockeying for playoff position down to the finish. They remained a game back of Denver in the Northwest Division, and Portland hosts the Nuggets in the season finale.

Mavericks 96, Timberwolves 94

In Dallas, Dirk Nowitzki keyed a late fourth-quarter rally with great plays on both ends of the court, helping Dallas edge Minnesota.

Jason Terry hit an 18-foot jumper from the right side with 0.2 seconds left to secure the win.

Dallas had to wipe out a late 7-point deficit to keep alive chances of claiming the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference.

That spot will be settled Wednesday in the final game of the season. Dallas and New Orleans are tied and the Hornets hold the tiebreaker, so the only way the Mavs can move up is by beating Houston and by New Orleans losing at San Antonio.

Nowitzki scored 34 points and had nine rebounds.

Nuggets 118, Kings 98

In Denver, the hosts beat Sacramento to clinch the Northwest Division title and home-court advantage in a playoff series for the first time in 21 years.

J.R. Smith got a career-high 45 points and franchise-best 11 3-pointers. Smith sank half his 3s in the fourth quarter, when he scored 23 points.

The Nuggets tied their franchise record for most wins since joining the NBA in 1976. They can break that mark with a victory in their regular-season finale Wednesday at Portland.

Nets 91, Bobcats 87

In East Rutherford, New Jersey, Jarvis Hayes hit two late 3-pointers as New Jersey rallied from 12 point down in the fourth quarter to beat Charlotte.

Charlotte played four reserves with only one regular starter in both the second and fourth quarters, and it ended up costing the Bobcats in their third straight loss.

Suns 119, Grizzlies 110

In Phoenix, Shaquille O'Neal hit four late field goals to help Phoenix to its eighth straight home win, downing Memphis.

Rookie Robin Lopez tied his career high with 14 points.

The Suns became just the third side in NBA history to record 45 wins and miss the playoffs.

Jazz 106, Clippers 85

In Salt Lake City, Utah snapped a three-game losing streak, beating Los Angeles to boost slim hopes of climbing out of the No. 8 seed in the West.

Carlos Boozer had 20 points and 13 rebounds.

Raptors 97, Wizards 96

In Washington, Chris Bosh made the go-ahead 3-pointer with 10 seconds left to give Toronto the narrowest of wins over Washington.

Trailing 93-80 with 6:30 remaining, the Raptors outscored the Wizards to pull off the win.

Bosh, who had 25 points and 15 rebounds for his 42nd double-double of the season, tying his 2006-07 franchise high.


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