- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 19, 2009

PORTLAND, ORE. (AP) - Yao Ming scored 24 points, all in the first half, and the Houston Rockets spoiled Portland’s back-in-the playoffs euphoria with a 108-81 victory over the Trail Blazers in the opener of their first-round series Saturday night.

The Rockets led by as many as 31 points in the second half and there was simply no way the young Blazers could catch up.

Yao, who also had nine rebounds, hit all nine of his attempts from the field and all six of his free throws. Portland centers Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden had no answer for the seven-time All-Star from China.

Yao did not attempt a shot in the second half and sat for all of the fourth quarter.

Aaron Brooks added 27 points for the Rockets, who haven’t advanced out of the first round of the playoffs since 1997.

Brandon Roy had 21 points for the Blazers in their first playoff appearance since the 2002-03 season. Portland embraced the young team this season, and some 10,000 fans showed up at a downtown rally earlier in the week in support of the team.

On Saturday night, many fans were already headed out the door by the end of the third quarter.

The loss snapped a six-game winning streak for the Blazers, as well as a six-game winning streak at home. Portland was 34-7 at the Rose Garden during the regular season.

The Blazers beat the Denver Nuggets 104-76 in the final game of the regular season to earn the fourth seed in the postseason.

The Rockets fell 95-84 in the season’s final game, dropping them to the fifth seed.

Oden, who sat out of practice Friday because of a sinus infection and was considered a game-time decision, played off the bench and had 15 points and five rebounds.

Oden spent several minutes in coach Nate McMillan’s office prior to the game. Afterward, McMillan said, “Looks good. No issues.”

Nine of Houston’s first 11 points came from Yao, who confounded Przybilla from the start. The 7-foot-6 center went on to score 14 points by the midway point of the first quarter, giving the Rockets an 18-12 lead.

Yao finished the quarter 7-for-7 from the floor for 16 points. The Rockets collectively shot 75 percent in the first quarter, missing only five of 20 shots.

The Rockets extended their lead to 40-26 on Von Wafer’s jumper in the second quarter, before going up 58-41 on Ron Artest’s layup.

There was a scary moment on the other end when Roy got caught in a tangle of players scrambling for the ball on the floor. Roy sat on the court for several moments, and when his teammates came to his aid, he appeared to mouth “my back.” But he returned shortly thereafter.

The Rockets led 62-44 at the half. Artest and Brooks each had 13 points in addition to Yao’s 24.

Luis Scola’s layup put Houston up 80-55 late in the third quarter. Brooks opened the fourth with a 3-pointer that made it 88-58.

Scola finished with 19 points and Attest had 17.

The Rockets have been without seven-time All-Star Tracy McGrady since February, when he underwent season-ending microfracture surgery on his left knee.

Notes:@ NBA commissioner David Stern attended the game. … Beforehand, the Blazers were provided a little inspiration with a headline from the local newspaper, The Oregonian, reading “Blazers an easy out? Not so fast.” … Houston coach Rick Adelman, who coached the Blazers from 1988-94, still has a home in the greater Portland area. Two of his children are coaches at local high schools. … Aaron Brooks was the only Rocket greeted with a round of applause. He went to the University of Oregon in Eugene. … Portland’s losing margin was their worst at the Rose Garden this season.

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