HOUSTON, April 8 (Ticker) -- With their playoff hopes hanging in the balance, the Houston Rockets tied a pair of embarrassing franchise records in an 81-66 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

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The Rockets' total matched their record-low output on December 21, 1996. Their 29.5 percent shooting (26-of-88) from the field also tied a franchise record for futility.

"I guess bad shooting is contagious," said Rockets rookie center Yao Ming, who shot 2-of-13 and scored six points. "It wasn't one person not shooting well. It was everyone."

Houston (40-38) could not have picked a worse time for a poor game. The Rockets fell 1 1/2 games behind the Phoenix Suns in the race for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference after the Suns won in Denver.

"We blew it," said Steve Francis, who scored 12 points on 5-of-20 shooting. "We just have to watch film of it and come out and do better."

Damon Stoudamire scored 10 of his season-high 21 points in the fourth quarter. The Rockets scored only 15 points in the final period.

"Some games you do different things," Stoudamire said. "I haven't played off the ball much this year, but I hit a couple of shots and got us going. I got into a nice offensive flow."

Houston went 8:29 between baskets in the second half and was outscored 11-3 in that span. The Rockets got as close as 67-60 with 7:04 left, but could not make enough shots in the final minutes to stay within striking distance.

"It was one of those situations where we just couldn't find the range," Rockets acting coach Larry Smith said. "We had opportunities and no one could put it in the basket. We tried everyone in that stretch and nobody could hit."

Portland (48-29) moved a one-half game in front of Minnesota for the fourth seed in the West. The Trail Blazers and Timberwolves likely will face each other in the first round of the playoffs, and the team finishing fourth gets home-court advantage.

"We knew we had to try to get a win tonight to start this trip," Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks said. "We're trying to play more consistent basketball going into the playoffs and not be one night up and one night down."

Bonzi Wells had 17 points and 11 rebounds and Arvydas Sabonis added 11 and seven off the bench for the Blazers.

James Posey led the Rockets with 15 points, 11 in the first quarter.

In the third quarter, the teams combined for 25 points. Houston scored only 10 on 3-of-24 shooting. Wells hit a 3-pointer from the left corner to beat the buzzer and give Portland a 59-51 lead.

Houston did not score 20 points in any of the final three quarters after taking a 23-19 lead after one period.

"We missed shots and that's all I can say," Francis said. "Right now is definitely not the time where we want to be missing shots. I don't think we were frustrated. At least we were sticking with taking the same shots. I don't think we lacked effort tonight."

The Rockets won three of four games from the Suns and only needs to tie Phoenix to make the playoffs.

"We have to ... put this game behind us," Smith said. "We know that we had a poor showing tonight. We've got to get away from it and worry about tomorrow night."

Houston's loss clinched a playoff berth for the Utah Jazz, who host the Rockets on Wednesday.