HOUSTON, Dec. 27 (Ticker) -- The New York Knicks had the appropriate remedy for rookie Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets.

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Latrell Sprewell scored 21 points and Allan Houston added 20, including four 3-pointers, as the Knicks snapped a two-game skid by cruising to a 99-83 rout of the Rockets.

Sprewell and Houston had eight points apiece in the opening quarter. Sprewell slammed down a pair of breakaway dunks and Houston hit both shots from beyond the arc as the Knicks built a 24-20 lead and never trailed thereafter.

"We tried to set a tone early to give ourselves a chance," Houston said. "Defensively, we were up and into the guys."

Michael Doleac contributed a season-high 15 points off the bench and helped Kurt Thomas tame Yao, holding the rookie sensation to 17 points and five rebounds.

"Everybody's talking about Yao," Houston said. "I'm sure Mike and Kurt and all the big guys were asked a lot of questions about Yao. I think they were up for the task. Our defense was key, we got a lot of turnovers."

The front-runner for Rookie of the Year honors, Yao averaged 18.4 points and 11.9 rebounds in his previous 11 games, recording eight double-doubles in that span.

"Our big guys really stepped up tonight," said Knicks coach Don Chaney, who held the same post with the Rockets from 1988-92. "We are small and they know that. We played big tonight. We made sure we put him in tough situations. We tried to make contact. He's very predictable in his moves."

"They played very well defensively against our whole team," Yao said. "You can see that by our shooting percentage. They didn't have that many fouls against me. I just have to think of a way to get around it.

The NBA leader in field goal percentage, Yao was 5-for-12 from the floor.

Steve Francis led the Rockets with 27 points, but Houston shot a franchise-low 29.5 percent (23-of-78) and dropped its season-high third straight game.

"It was a nightmare, getting the shots you want and not being able to put it in the hole," Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "We had layups, we had open shots and then we got frustrated and it became a grind. You've got to give them credit."

The Rockets' previous single-game low came last season on March 28, when they shot 29.9 percent against Sacramento.

New York saw its string of 14 consecutive playoff appearances come to an end as it went 30-52 last season. Defense was the hallmark of those teams and the element that has seemed lacking over the last two years.

In this one, the Knicks improved to 3-0 this season when holding opponents to 85 points or fewer. They entered the contest with the league's 20th-ranked defense, yielding 95.9 points per game.

The Knicks were trailing, 15-8, when they embarked on a 14-2 run. Sprewell and Houston, who finished with at least 20 points apiece for just the fourth time this season, each scored six during the outburst and helped New York to a 22-17 lead.

New York took a six-point cushion into the fourth quarter and Thomas hit an 18-footer to spark a 15-2 run. Charlie Ward nailed one of his two 3-pointers with 7:35 remaining and gave the Knicks their largest lead, 87-67.

Clarence Weatherspoon effectively sealed the victory with 2 1/2 minutes to go. Off a feed from Sprewell, the 6-7 Weatherspoon finished a driving dunk over Yao's outstretched arm to open a 93-77 cushion.

"I just made (Yao) catch it a little farther (from the basket) than he likes to," Doleac said. "I just kept him out of his position down low. I wasn't trying to block any shots. Kurt started out playing him great and (Yao) just never got going."

"Going in, we thought we might have to double team," Thomas added. "When I did get in foul trouble, my teammates came in and did a solid job. I didn't realize (Yao) was 300 pounds. I was able to move him out a step or two."

The Rockets have dropped consecutive home games for the first time this season.