Cassell Helps Propel Clippers Past Rockets
L.A. Clippers 99, Houston 91
HOUSTON, March 20 (Ticker) -- The Los Angeles Clippers continue to roll toward the postseason. The Houston Rockets are moving closer toward looking to next season.
Sam Cassell scored 24 points and Corey Maggette contributed 20 off the bench as the Clippers won for the sixth time in seven games with a 99-91 triumph over the Rockets.
"In training camp, I told everyone that this team could win," said Cassell, who made 9-of-16 shots. "We have a lot of talent in this locker room and now we are understanding how to play more and more each game. It's going to take more than one year to turn things around for this organization, but we came out with a vengeance. Los Angeles is a great town when you're winning."
Rookie Luther Head, who scored 20 points, made 3-pointer to end the third quarter and spark a 9-0 run as Houston took a 76-73 lead 2 1/2 minutes into the final period.
But the Clippers displayed some toughness as the Clippers responded. Shaun Livingston, Cassell and Chris Kaman scored on three straight possessions to help build a nine-point bulge with less than six minutes remaining.
"We got a big lift from our bench too," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "Defensively, Shaun did a good job running the team. We did a better job in the second half of moving the ball around and then we were able to pull away."
Rafer Alston, who had nine points and eight assists, pulled the Rockets within 89-85 with 2:22 left. But Maggette scored on a driving layup and Cassell drilled shot from behind the arc to help rebuild the lead to nine points.
"We just didn't lock it in," said Alston, who missed all five of his shots from deep. "We didn't key in on their plays and on the sets they were running. They were getting easy buckets all of the sudden and we would just go back down and couldn't hit our shots."
Elton Brand had 15 points and three blocks and Cuttino Mobley, like Cassell a former Rocket, scored 14 points for the Clippers, who shot 47 percent (35-of-73) from the field and are just three wins from clinching their first winning season since 1978-79.
"We should be 19 games over .500 this year," Mobley said. "I am not surprised at all with what this team has accomplished this year. We're going for the big 50 (wins). I have been telling guys that we can do that from the beginning of the season."
Yao Ming continued his stellar play after the All-Star break, collecting 25 points and pulling down 17 rebounds for Houston, which shot 42 percent (36-of-84) and fell to 2-19 without injured superstar Tracy McGrady (back).
"For me, it's a breath of fresh air when we make a couple of shots from the outside," Yao said. "It takes a lot of pressure off me. Every time we go inside and go inside, it gets too crowded. It is easier to guard us when it's like that."
"Yao is enormous, but he's skilled also," said Brand, who blocked two of Yao's shots. "I love playing against him. He is one of the best players in the league."
Houston (29-38), which lost its fifth straight, is 4 1/2 games behind Sacramento for the Western Conference's final playoff berth.
"It doesn't matter what you do offensively when you don't win the game," Head said. "This team is struggling and we need to find out."