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Rockets top Blazers to go fourth in West

THE Houston Rockets are relying on a familiar formula to climb up the Western Conference standings.

"Moving it (the ball) and playing hard on defense," Ron Artest said. "That's our identity right now."

Artest scored 21 points, Aaron Brooks had 20 and the Rockets moved past Portland in the West with a 98-94 victory over the Trail Blazers in Houston on Tuesday night.

Houston has won eight straight home games and five straight overall, both season bests.

Not so coincidentally, the Rockets have had at least 20 assists in their last five games after getting 20 on Tuesday night. They held their previous four opponents under 90 points, and Portland didn't get to 90 until the final minute.

In other National Basketball Association games, it was: Spurs 93, Mavericks 76; Cavaliers 94, Grizzlies 79; Raptors 118, Timberwolves 110; Heat 103, Pistons 91; Bulls 120, Magic 102; Lakers 107, Thunder 93; and Suns 112, Bobcats 102.

In Houston, Luis Scola had 15 points and 11 rebounds - his fifth straight double-double - for the Rockets, who came in trailing Portland by a half-game for fourth place in the conference.

The Rockets have mostly beaten teams with losing records lately, and felt a little more satisfied after this victory.

"We're going in the right direction," Scola said. "We have a lot of space to improve and things will get better, but this is definitely the way we want to play."

Brandon Roy scored 24 and LaMarcus Aldridge added 21 points with eight rebounds for the Blazers, who've lost nine of their last 10 games in Houston.

The Rockets seemed to have the victory in hand after Kyle Lowry's layup with 8:31 left put Houston up 89-75.

But Aldridge converted a three-point play and added a jumper to start a 13-3 run. Yao Ming gave away his fifth turnover before Travis Outlaw's three-pointer and driving layup cut Houston's lead to 91-88.

The Rockets missed six straight shots, but the Blazers couldn't take full advantage. Steve Blake missed a three-pointer, Outlaw couldn't score on a drive and Aldridge missed a shot from the wing in the final two minutes.

Roy scored twice in the final 22 seconds, but the Rockets put the game away from the free-throw line to end the Blazers' three-game win streak.

In San Antonio, Tony Parker had 37 points and 12 assists as the Spurs raced past Texas rivals Dallas Mavericks in a Southwest Division showdown.

Parker, San Antonio's offensive spark in the absence of injured standouts Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, had 26 points in the first half to help the Spurs to a 50-44 advantage.

Forward Kurt Thomas, starting for Duncan, added 10 points and 15 rebounds with front-court mate Michael Finley, a former Maverick, contributing 16 points.

Josh Howard had 19 points for the fourth-placed Mavericks, who fell 5 1/2 games behind the division-leading Spurs.


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