Houston 115, Sacramento 111 (F-OT)

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Jan. 13 (AP) -- After two very subpar games, it wasn't surprising that Tracy McGrady didn't experience a third Saturday night.

One of the NBA's most dangerous scorers, McGrady had 37 points and nine assists to help the Houston Rockets defeat the slumping Sacramento Kings 115-111 in overtime.

Rafer Alston opened the overtime with a 3-pointer, and Houston never trailed in handing the Kings their third overtime loss in the last four games at Arco Arena.

A 3-pointer from McGrady and two free throws by Shane Battier put the Rockets in control 109-103 and the Kings never regained the lead.

McGrady entered the game struggling, missing all 11 3-point attempts the last two games and scoring a combined 20 points. His shooting slump ended in Sacramento. He made 12 of 31 shots, including three 3-pointers, and hit 10 of 11 free throws.

Two of McGrady's 3-pointers came late in regulation and gave Houston a five-point lead that it eventually squandered.

"He started bad in the first half, but in the second half he always picks up his momentum,'' said teammate Dikembe Mutombo, who had 11 points and 18 rebounds. "We know Tracy will always come out and rescue us.''

Ron Artest almost rescued the Kings.

He had 11 points in the fourth quarter, scored 34 overall and banked in a long 3-pointer to tie the game 101-101 with 3.3 seconds left. McGrady had a good look on a jumper at the buzzer but misfired.

"He hit a good shot; he didn't call bank,'' McGrady joked afterward. "He came up and told me it was a lucky shot.''

The Rockets continue to win despite the absence of center Yao Ming, who fractured his right leg Dec. 23 against the Los Angeles Clippers. With Mutombo rebounding well and protecting the middle, and a number of role players contributing, Houston is 9-2 without Yao.

"Everyone needs to step up and do something until Yao gets back and that's what we're doing, it's a different guy every night,'' Battier said.

Battier certainly stepped up in overtime, taking a charge when Corliss Williamson barreled into him. Battier needed eight stitches after the game to close up a wound on the top of his head.

Alston had seven of his 22 points in overtime and added eight assists for Houston, which has won four straight and nine off 10. Juwan Howard made his first five shots and scored 17 points, and Luther Head scored 14.

A difficult season continues for the Kings, who fell to a very uncharacteristic 10-11 at home in losing their fifth straight game. They have lost four straight at home and may welcome the upcoming stretch that has them playing eight of 10 games on the road, starting Monday afternoon in New York.

"We're losing a lot of these close games, but it doesn't matter if it's by one point or 30 points, we're still losing,'' John Salmons said. "It's putting us deeper and deeper in the West (standings).''

Artest scored 34 points and veteran Williamson seemingly turned back the clock with season-highs of 30 points and 12 rebounds for the Kings. Shareef Abdur-Rahim scored 15, Kevin Martin had 14, and Mike Bibby missed 11 of 14 shots and finished with 12 points.

"We got beat as opposed to beating ourselves,'' Artest explained. "Both teams played well so we were supposed to get beat.''

McGrady's poor shooting from the previous two games continued in the opening half, when he missed 7-of-10 shots. But he began to connect from the outside in the third quarter, scoring 14 points as Houston erased a six-point halftime deficit to take a 77-75 lead.

Notes: Kings center Brad Miller missed the game for personal reasons. ... Ex-King Bonzi Wells was bothered by a sore lower back and did not dress. He has played in only 11 games this season. ... Pete Carril, former Princeton coach and a long-time Kings assistant, attended the game. ... Seldom-used Maurice Taylor started his first game this season for the Kings, but was not a factor, going scoreless and committing four fouls in 8 minutes.

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