HOUSTON, Jan. 11 (Ticker) -- The Houston Rockets' costly victory almost became an embarrassing loss.

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Steve Francis scored 25 points and reserve James Posey added 18 against his former team as the Rockets held off a furious fourth-quarter rally for an 87-85 victory over the Denver Nuggets.

Houston won for the fifth time in seven games but lost rookie center Yao Ming and starting forward Glen Rice to injuries. Yao left after the first quarter with a sprained left knee and Rice suffered a strained left shoulder in the third quarter.

"It's just a gutsy win," Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovioch said. "Guys were dropping like flies, but our guys came in and did a great job. This could've been a really really demoralizing loss. But it's a long season and you've got to find ways, no matter what happens."

"It was tough with guys just walking off the court," Francis added. "But we had enough healthy players to play this game and play well. It was tough having to grind this one out, especially with the big lead we had. But I don't care what happens; as long as the end result goes our way, I'm happy."

The Rockets led by as many as 18 early in the fourth quarter, but the Nuggets exploded for 38 points in the final period. Rookie Junior Harrington scored 10 of his 17 points during a 21-7 run that brought Denver within 77-73 with 2:58 remaining.

"I just can't say enough about the great things about him right now," Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "He showed tonight that he belongs in this league, without question."

Posey, who was traded to the Rockets as part of a three-team deal on December 19, responded with a 3-pointer and Francis added a driving layup for an 82-73 edge with 1:50 to go.

"It felt great," said Posey, who was 4-of-4 from 3-point range. "It felt good coming in and feeling like I'm a part of this team. I'm glad that I got a few good looks and it was good that they went in against (the Nuggets)."

Harrington scored four straight points to bring the Nuggets within five. After Francis made 1-of-2 free throws, rookie Nene Hilario made 3-of-4 in a nine-second span to cut the deficit to 83-80 with 14 seconds left.

Francis buried two free throws and, after Nuggets forward Rodney White buried a jumper, Posey made 1-of-2 free throws for an 86-82 edge with six seconds to play.

White sank a 3-pointer with less than a second remaining and Houston's Cuttino Mobley made a free throw after being fouled away from the ball for the final margin.

Juwan Howard scored 19 points and Hilario had 14 and 10 rebounds for the Nuggets, who failed to match their season high with a third straight win.

White scored 16 points on 6-of-17 shooting as Denver shot only 38 percent (32-of-81) from the floor.

"There were a lot of times when I had four rookies on the court," Bzdelik said. "Tonight we showed that we can come back. We didn't give up and with the young guys we have out there, that's a real positive sign."

"We lost because of how we played in the third quarter," Hilario said through an interpreter. "The difference was the threes that they hit in key situations. Tonight you just have to tip your hat."

Houston had a 37-33 halftime edge before opening the third quarter with a 16-3 run. Francis scored seven points during the spurt and capped it with a 3-pointer to extend the Rockets' cushion to53-36 with 5:36 remaining.

Houston made 11-of-23 shots in the third quarter and held Denver to 29 percent (5-of-17) shooting. The Rockets made four 3-pointers in the period and finished 7-of-15 from behind the arc.