HOUSTON, March 31 (Ticker) -- Yao Ming
matched his best offensive output
of the season, but it still almost wasn't enough for the Houston
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.
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, 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
"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
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
The bulge grew to 81-66 on former Wizard Juwan Howard
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
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
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."