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Rockets edge Bobcats, close on division lead

THE visiting Houston Rockets closed on the leadership of the NBA's Southwest Division by beating the Charlotte Bobcats 91-86 yesterday despite blowing a late lead.

Yao Ming scored 23 points to lead Houston, who moved within 1-1/2 games of Southwest leader San Antonio.

When Yao drilled only the second straightaway 3-pointer of his career, the Rockets looked to have the win in hand, leading 83-77 with just over two minutes to play, but the Bobcats roared back to take the lead.

Ron Artest hit a jump shot with 22 seconds left to put Houston back in front by a point, and two free throws gave the visitors a three-point buffer. Artest then blocked a tying three-point attempt, picked up the ball and raced down court for the lay up that sealed the win.

Celtics 102, Grizzlies 92

In Boston, Leon Powe scored a career-high 30 points with 11 rebounds, leading Boston over Memphis.

Powe, starting for just the third time this season due to injuries to star players, had the 10th double-double of his career and his third in four games. Ray Allen added 22 points for the Celtics.

The Grizzlies have lost four consecutive games, and are only two games ahead of Sacramento in the fight to avoid the NBA cellar.

Hawks 101, Pacers 87

In Atlanta, the hosts notched a fourth straight win, downing Indiana.

Joe Johnson scored 30 points for the third straight game, and Al Horford finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds for the Hawks, who increased their lead to two games over fifth-placed Miami in the Eastern Conference.

The Hawks' 38 wins are one more than their total from last season, when they reached the playoffs for the first time in nine years.

Johnson has gone 33-for-64 from the field in Atlanta's past three games to average 30.3 points.

Magic 112, Wizards 103

In Washington, Dwight Howard's 18 points, 13 rebounds and career-high seven assists led Orlando over an undermanned Washington.

The Wizards, already missing Gilbert Arenas, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson with injuries, lost two-time All-Star Caron Butler to a hamstring strain in the second half, and reserve forward Andray Blatche was also injured.

Butler missed three games earlier this month with a hamstring strain.

76ers 104, Bulls 101

In Philadelphia, the home team beat Chicago in the final NBA game at the Spectrum.

Thaddeus Young scored a career-high 31 points and Andre Iguodala had 25 for the 76ers.

The Sixers, who normally play across the street at the Wachovia Center, played their first game at their old home for 13 years as a sendoff before it is demolished at the end of the year.

Pistons 99, Raptors 95, OT

In Toronto, the hosts slumped to a seventh straight loss, beaten by Detroit in overtime.

It was the first time in ten games that the Raptors had held an opponent to double figures, but it still wasn't enough, as Richard Hamilton had 24 points and 16 assists and Antonio McDyess added 16 points and 13 rebounds for the Pistons.

Detroit swept the season series against Toronto for the first time since 1997-98.

Knicks 102, Timberwolves 94

In Minneapolis, Wilson Chandler scored 24 points to spark New York to a third straight victory, downing Minnesota.

The Timberwolves are 2-13 without Al Jefferson, and turned the ball over 19 times.


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