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Yao's team-high 26 sends Celtics reeling

STRUGGLING NBA champions Boston Celtics suffered their third straight defeat after Houston Rockets edged them 89-85 at home on Wednesday.

Houston guard Von Wafer made a go-ahead three-pointer with 43 seconds left and Yao Ming added two of his team-high 26 in the final seconds to clinch victory.

The Celtics entered the contest having lost five of their last seven road games, but the holders could not find any solace at home either.

"In our last timeout, you could see it in our guys' eyes. Like 'shoot, we're going to lose a home game,'" Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "It bothered them. I was thinking, 'that's a good thing.'"

Paul Pierce led the way with 26 points for the Celtics (29-8), who scored a season-low 11 points in the fourth quarter to let the Rockets snap a three-game slide and avoid losing six successive road games for the first time since 2001-02.

Playing without the injured shooting guard Tracy McGrady, Houston relied on 19 points from point guard Aaron Brooks and 17 from big offseason acquisition Ron Artest, who had missed his last two games with an ankle ailment.

Houston (22-15) began the season as title contenders but have yet to display that level of play, beset by injuries besides disappointing starts to the season from leaders McGrady and Artest.

"When you launch a rocket, you will not go (from) zero to 100 miles (per hour) in one second," Yao said.

"We need to turn it up. But when is the start? "Every game can be a start."

Boston blazed to a franchise-best 27-2 start this year including a 19-game winning streak, but has sputtered to six defeats in eight games starting with a Christmas Day setback against Los Angeles Lakers.

Kevin Garnett scored 18 points with eight rebounds as the Celtics took a 74-71 advantage through three quarters before surrendering the game.

In Cleveland, LeBron James scored 21 points before grabbing an early seat on the bench as Cleveland warmed up for its highly anticipated matchup with Boston.

Mo Williams added 15 points to help the Cavaliers improve to 18-0 at home with a 111-81 win over the Bobcats.

In Denver, Chauncey Billups, Linas Kleiza and J.R. Smith scored 21 points apiece to help Denver down Miami 108-97 for its fifth straight win. Dwyane Wade had 31 points for Miami.

In Oakland, California, Pau Gasol had 33 points and a career-high 18 rebounds, Kobe Bryant added 21 points and Los Angeles beat Golden State 114-106 for its seventh win in eight games.

Andrew Bynum had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers, coming off a home loss to New Orleans.

In New Jersey, Vince Carter had 25 points and a season-high 12 assists, and New Jersey won its third straight at home, a 100-89 win over the Grizzlies. The Nets raced to an early double-digit lead, kept it for most of the way, and never trailed in a game for the first time this season.

Yi Jianlian added 20 points for the Nets. Memphis rookie O.J. Mayo scored 26 points.

Elsewhere, it was: Pacers 113, Suns 100; Raptors 99, Wizards 93; Magic 106, Hawks 102; Timberwolves 129, Thunder 87; and 76ers 110, Bucks 105.


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