HOUSTON, March 31 (Ticker) -- Yao Ming matched his best offensive output of the season, but it still almost wasn't enough for the Houston Rockets.

Yao scored a season-high 38 points and hauled in 11 rebounds as the Rockets held on for a 105-103 triumph over the Washington Wizards, who had a chance to steal it at the end.

NBA TV highlights from
Antawn Jamison, who made four 3-pointers en route to 28 points, had a chance to give the Wizards the victory as excellent ball movement left him wide open at the arc, but the shot clanged off the rim as time expired.

"It felt good, but it didn't go down," said Jamison, who was 4-of-9 from deep. "Earlier those that didn't feel good went in. Normally I have a little more arc on my jump shots. The five (3-pointers) I missed, they all felt good and I never doubted they would go down."

The loss shaved Washington's (37-34) lead to 1 1/2 games over Milwaukee for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race. It also clinched the Southeast Division title for idle Miami.

"It's a tight race and we have to keep winning," said Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas, who missed the Tuesday's victory at Sacramento because of flu-like symptoms. "We have to play consistent and any series we get into we are going to give any team a good run for their money."

Houston (32-40), which moved within four games of Sacramento for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, took control of the game with an 18-6 burst that closed the second quarter. Yao scored seven points during the charge, helping Houston to a 62-50 lead.

"I was pretty surprised that a lot of times they didn't come to double team," Yao said. "In the first quarter I was rushing things. I was expecting them to double and I was doing a lot of catch-and-gos. After that, I tried to read the defense and when I saw nobody was coming, I took my time."

The Wizards were without starting center Brendan Haywood for the third straight game because of back spasms.

"This is a game when Brendan would have helped," Jamison said. "(Yao) earned his check. He put his team on his back and carried them."

The bulge grew to 81-66 on former Wizard Juwan Howard's basket with 2:29 left in the third quarter.

However, Washington rallied in the fourth quarter behind Jamison and Arenas, who scored 12 of his 27 points in the final 12 minutes. The Wizards cut the deficit to 87-86 before Yao responded with eight points in an 11-2 charge that seemingly put away the game.

Washington again rallied, drawing within 102-101 at the 1:15 mark on a follow dunk by Jared Jeffries. Yao answered with a turnaround jumper 23 seconds later, but the Wizards got within 104-103 with 16 seconds left on a layup by Jeffries, who tied his career high with 15 points.

"Everything was easy and we started playing like the game was over," Yao said. "They started to full-court press and we should have attacked them. We didn't do a good job and they hit two threes in a row. Most of the time, we did well. But in the last couple of minutes we didn't."

"I don't think we let up as much as they did a good job at attacking the basket," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said.

Houston's Keith Bogans had a chance to make it a three-point game, but made just 1-of-2 at the line to set the stage for Jamison's miss at the buzzer.

"I think that is what presented itself," Van Gundy said of the Wizards going for the win instead of the tie. "They were unselfish, Ryan (Bowen, who was guarding Jamison) slipped, Jamison had a great look and we were fortunate."

Rookie Luther Head scored 20 points and Rafer Alston added 19 for the Rockets, who shot 56 percent (39-of-70) from the floor.

"I got comfortable with the offense where I can do more, pick my spots," Head said. "We started slipping and making mistakes. Hopefully, we can stop making those mistakes."

"We always knew he could shoot," Alston said of Head. "Now he's driving to the basket, taking guys off the dribble."