Houston 96, New Jersey 71

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Dec. 27 (AP) -- For one night, Shane Battier's shooting and some very good defense helped the Houston Rockets forget they will be playing without Yao Ming for a while.

Battier hit a career-high seven 3-pointers and scored 23 points, and the Rockets limited the New Jersey Nets to 33 percent shooting in a 96-71 victory Wednesday night.

"Without the big fella down there, there are a lot more opportunities for everybody,'' said Battier, who was 8-of-16 from the field, including 7-of-12 from 3-point range. "I'm not happy about that (Yao being out). We all have to do our part. Tonight our spacing was way better and we moved the ball. We played much better basketball.''

Tracy McGrady added 17 points and six assists, while fellow guard Rafer Alston had 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists for the Rockets, who snapped a two-game losing streak and won for only the third time in nine games.

Juwan Howard had 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Rockets, who outrebounded the Nets 54-32 despite being without Yao. The All-Star center will be sidelined for six weeks after fracturing a bone beneath his right knee on Saturday night.

"The team effort was great,'' said McGrady, playing for the second straight night after missing the previous seven games with a back injury. "I think we did a great job defensively, making everything tough especially for their big three. Vince had a tough night. I think Shane did a great job and we as a team did a great job helping out.''

The Nets big three of Vince Carter (12), Jason Kidd (11) and Richard Jefferson (11) combined for 34 points on 11-for-40 shooting. New Jersey was 24-of-73 from the field, including just 3-of-16 from 3-point range, in losing its fourth straight game.

The 25-point margin of defeat was the worst this season for the Nets (11-18). Their previous biggest loss was 18 to Portland on Nov. 18.

"I think right now we are not capable of finding a way to win, or we are unable to, or don't know how to, or something'' Carter said. "Sometimes you are going to have rough shooting nights or rough defending nights. You have to find a way, and right now if it is not going good, it is not going to go. That's where it is now, and we have to play our way out of that.''

Houston never trailed in the game in which both teams shot poorly at the start, hitting only five baskets on their first 20 shots.

Battier, who previous best was five 3-pointers in a game, hit a 3 and a layup in a late 9-4 spurt that gave the Rockets an 18-12 lead after the first quarter.

McGrady scored 10 points in the second quarter to push the lead to 49-39.

Leading 52-42 in the third quarter, the Rockets went on an 8-0 run. Alston hit two free throws, McGrady hit a fadeaway jumper and Dikembe Mutombo and Howard scored baskets to push the lead to 60-42 and the Nets never threatened again.

"As a team the effort just wasn't there tonight,'' Kidd said. ``That's on everyone's shoulders.''

Notes: The Rockets will play their next four games at home after playing 10 of 12 (5-7) on the road. ... Houston scored a season-low 76 points on Tuesday night in Indiana. ... New Jersey is 1-14 in games it scores less than 100 points and 2-12 when trailing entering the final quarter. ... Houston's Luther Head extended his team-record of hitting a 3-pointer to 28 straight games. ... Kidd was fined $20,000 by the NBA on Wednesday for a postgame rant in which he referred to officials Jim Clark, Tom Washington and Eric Lewis as ``three blind mice'' following a one-point loss to Detroit on Tuesday.


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