- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2009

HOUSTON (AP) - The Houston Rockets put a damper on Portland’s big day.

Yao Ming had 21 points and 12 rebounds to lead Houston to a 102-88 win on Sunday night.

The loss came just hours after Portland got its first playoff berth since 2003 when Dallas beat Phoenix 140-116.

With their playoff spot assured, the Trail Blazers didn’t lead after early in the first quarter, but wouldn’t go away. They made a run each time Houston got a comfortable lead until the Rockets finally put it away in the fourth quarter.

Houston was ahead 72-65 entering the fourth before Portland cut the lead to 74-70 on a layup by Rudy Fernandez two minutes later.

Houston used a 6-0 run punctuated by a nifty reverse dunk by Von Wafer to make it 80-70 with 8 1/2 minutes left and Portland didn’t get closer than eight points after that.

The win moves Houston ahead of Portland and into fourth place in the Western Conference with five games left in the regular season.

Luis Scola added 16 points, Ron Artest had 15 and Aaron Brooks added 14 for the Rockets.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 22 points and nine rebounds, but was slowed significantly by the dogged defense of Chuck Hayes. Hayes was his constant pest when he was in the game, helping limit him to 7-of-15 shooting.

Brandon Roy had 22 points and six assists.

Portland cut the lead to 65-60 after a pair of free throws by Aldridge capped a 10-4 run with about three minutes left in the third quarter. Houston answered with seven straight points in the next two minutes to push the lead back to double digits 72-60.

Greg Oden wasn’t on the court much in his first meeting with Yao. The backup to Joel Przybilla, Oden played a little more than 11 minutes Sunday. When he did match up with Yao, it was no contest.

Late in the third quarter, Yao missed a hook shot over Oden before grabbing his own rebound and wowing the crowd with his slam dunk that put Houston ahead 69-60. Oden got four fouls trying to slow Yao down.

The Rockets were up 44-39 midway through the second quarter before going on an 8-0 run keyed by six points by Scola to push the lead to 52-39. They led 54-43 at halftime.

Houston led 31-25 after the first quarter thanks to six quick points from Yao in the last two minutes. Yao hit consecutive hook shots over Oden less than a minute after he entered the game for the first time. The third time Yao went in for a bucket against him, he was fouled and sunk both free throws.

Oden finished with four points and no rebounds.

Notes:@ Dikembe Mutombo got a technical foul despite not playing after yelling at the referee from the bench after a foul on Brooks late in the first half. … Hayes had a season-high nine points. … Yao has a double-double in five straight games.

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