MILWAUKEE, April 2 (Ticker) -- The Milwaukee Bucks are finding the balance that may propel them into the playoffs.

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Sam Cassell scored 20 points and Gary Payton added 18 as the Bucks had six players in double figures en route to their third straight win, a 106-99 victory over the Houston Rockets.

Milwaukee had lost eight of 10 games before placing six players in double figures in a victory over the Miami Heat on Sunday. The Bucks had four players with at least 13 points in the finale of a home-and-home set against the Heat on Monday and continued to get significant contributions from its entire rotation against the Rockets.

"When you get four, five, six guys scoring 14 or 15 points, it means people were moving and passing the ball," Payton said. "That's what this team needs to do. We can't have one guy shooting all the time if we're going to win games."

Toni Kukoc scored 18 points off the bench, Tim Thomas had 14 points and Michael Redd and Desmond Mason added 13 apiece as Milwaukee moved two games ahead of Washington for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

"Tonight I thought was a hump game," Milwaukee coach George Karl said. "Houston always gives us trouble. Our bench was very good."

"We are starting to play the way we are supposed to," Payton said. "Recently we've been improving and we've been seeing the results in W's. We are a better team when we have multiple guys scoring in double figures like we did tonight."

The Bucks had an 84-80 lead midway through the fourth quarter before pulling away with nine straight points. Payton sparked the burst with a pair of free throws and, after a layup by Mason, added a basket.

Mason capped the spurt with a three-point play to give Milwaukee its largest lead at 93-80 with 5:52 to go.

The Rockets used an 8-1 run to pull within 98-92 with 87 seconds left, but the Bucks made six free throws in the final 60 seconds to seal the victory.

James Posey had 20 points and nine rebounds and Steve Francis had 17, eight and six assists as Houston lost for the fourth time in five games. The setback clinched a playoff berth for Portland.

The Rockets have fallen one game behind the Phoenix Suns for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They are just 1 1/2 games ahead of 10th-place Seattle.

"It was a crucial game for us," Houston assistant Larry Smith said. "They came out and they played to win. We had a good start, they made plays and made big shots."

"We just have to take care of our business and win games," Posey said. "We should have won this game tonight. We have to get them now, we can't let them slip away."

Cuttino Mobley returned from a finger injury to score 15 points for Houston, who shot 52 percent (35-of-68) from the floor but committed 22 turnovers.

"It was basically unforced turnovers that killed us," said Posey, who committed four turnovers. "We still had our chances though. We hurt ourselves with the turnovers."

Rookie Yao Ming scored 12 of his 15 points in the first quarter as Houston jumped out to a 30-20 lead. The Rockets had their largest lead when Posey opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer.

Milwaukee responded with a 10-2 run highlighted by eight points from Thomas, who buried a 3-pointer to bring the Bucks within 35-30 with 8:30 to go.

The Bucks scored six of the final eight points in the first half to forge a 52-52 tie at halftime.

Cassell gave Milwaukee the lead for good at 74-72 on a jumper with 1:40 left in the third quarter.