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Yao too good for Howard as Rockets fire

HOUSTON'S Yao Ming won a showdown of top-flight centers with Orlando's Dwight Howard on Tuesday to guide the Rockets to a 93-83 home victory.

Yao schooled his younger rival with 20 points and 16 rebounds as Houston stopped Orlando (57-20) from overtaking second-placed Boston (58-19) in the Eastern Conference.

"Each year I feel it's harder and harder to guard him (Howard)," Yao told reporters.

"He keeps getting stronger and he has quickness. He has learned a lot of offensive skills."

Howard, who wound up with 13 points and 10 rebounds, returned the compliment.

"He shot the ball well," Howard said. "I got really frustrated with my game."

The 2.29m Yao also is very hard to defend because of his height, said Howard, who stands 2.11m.

The loss left the Magic a full game behind Boston.

Houston (50-28), the No. 4 team in the Western Conference, took the lead against the Magic midway the first quarter and enjoyed a 47-38 halftime advantage.

Orlando pulled within a point in the third quarter at 55-54 on Rafer Alston's three-pointer, but two consecutive field goals by Yao and a three-pointer by Shane Battier put Houston back in control.

"I'm really pleased with the win," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "I think our guys really played hard, defended them well."

Ron Artest finished with 16 points, Von Wafer had 14 and Luis Scola scored 12 for Houston while Rashard Lewis led the Magic with 22 points and 12 rebounds, Alston adding 15 points.

In Miami, Rasual Butler hit a game-tying 3-pointer with no time remaining in regulation and David West hit the winning jump shot with 8.8 seconds left in overtime as the New Orleans Hornets stunned the Miami Heat 93-87.

Chris Paul finished with 26 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, and Peja Stojakovic added 24 points for the Hornets (48-29), who not only clinched a postseason berth but stayed thickly in the hunt for home-court advantage in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Dwyane Wade scored 32 points before getting ejected with 1.4 seconds remaining and Michael Beasley added 25 for Miami (41-37), which remained a half-game ahead of Philadelphia in the race for the No. 5 spot in the East postseason chase. The Heat fell three games behind Atlanta for the fourth seed in the East.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, Gerald Wallace scored 29 points, including the final four of the game as Charlotte beat Philadelphia 101-98 to snap a three-game losing streak.

Raymond Felton scored a career-high 32 points and the Bobcats recovered after blowing a 20-point lead to improve their faint playoff hopes.

Andre Iguodala and Willie Green missed tying 3-pointers in the closing seconds for the Sixers. Andre Miller had 23 points and Louis Williams scored 20 for Philadelphia.

In Toronto, Josh Smith had 25 points and seven rebounds as Atlanta used 11-for-22 shooting from 3-point range to beat Toronto 118-110.

The Hawks, trying to secure the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, also got 25 points from Joe Johnson and 17 from Maurice Evans. Mike Bibby added 13 points and 10 assists, while Al Horford chipped in 15 points and 12 rebounds.

In Oklahoma City, Tim Duncan had 25 points and 15 rebounds, and Drew Gooden provided a needed lift off the bench for San Antonio in its first game since learning Manu Ginobili would miss the rest of the season.

The Spurs beat the Thunder 99-99.


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