Houston 86, Indiana 76

HOUSTON, March 20 (AP) -- Even with two fingers taped together, Yao Ming showed a deft shooting touch Tuesday night to lead the Houston Rockets past the Indiana Pacers.

His dribbling was another story.

Yao had 32 points and 14 rebounds and went 12-for-13 from the free-throw line to help the Rockets to an 86-76 victory. But he also coughed up six turnovers, most of them Indiana steals coming after Yao tried to put the ball on the floor.

"The way to cut down turnovers is to limit the dribble,'' said Yao, who hit 10 of 17 shots. "You have to give them (the Pacers) credit. They have a good steal team, particularly stealing from the big guys.''

Yao has been wearing tape around the middle and ring fingers on his shooting hand since dislocating his middle finger against Boston on March 7. He dismissed that as a reason for his sloppiness.

"That's not a good excuse,'' Yao said.

When Yao kept the ball high and simply turned and shot, he was virtually unstoppable. He's expecting a long film session with Houston assistant coach Tom Thibodeau on Wednesday to examine his mistakes.

"If I get the ball in my shooting range, I'm just going to face up and shoot it,'' Yao said. "It's hard to block my shot and if I get the offensive rebound, I can easily put it back in.''

Jermaine O'Neal scored 25 and grabbed nine rebounds for the Pacers, who have dropped eight straight road games and 12 of 13 overall.

O'Neal took a hard foul in the fourth quarter and had X-rays after the game on his left knee. O'Neal missed three games after an MRI last week revealed a sprain. Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said O'Neal was "very doubtful'' to play in San Antonio on Wednesday.

Tracy McGrady added 20 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds for the Rockets. McGrady's problem wasn't his ball-handling, but his shooting - he finished 7-for-21 and made only one 3-pointer all night.

"I was so frustrated on the offensive end,'' he said. "I couldn't get anything to fall.''

The one 3-pointer McGrady did hit was a big one, ending a string of 12 straight misses for Houston in the fourth quarter. The shot gave the Rockets a 70-67 lead with 7:33 to go.

"I told myself in the fourth quarter that if it was going to be close,'' McGrady said, "it was up to me to really get us easy baskets and try to take over the game.''

Yao added two baseline jumpers over the next minute to give Houston a 74-67 lead.

O'Neal dunked with 6:06 left to cut Houston's lead to five. He tried for another dunk with 4:43 to go, but hit the floor hard after he was fouled by Shane Battier. O'Neal limped around for a few seconds before splitting the free throws.

McGrady and Juwan Howard hit long jumpers to stretch Houston's lead to 79-70. Tinsley scored, but Howard answered with another baseline jumper.

After Tinsley hit a floater, McGrady drew Indiana's defense on a drive and found Battier open in the corner for a 3-pointer that gave Houston its first double-digit lead, 84-74 with 2:20 left.

"Shots were not going down for either team,'' said Battier, "but we found a way to gut it out and win this game.''

Tinsley banked in a runner with 1:13 left, but the Pacers couldn't get closer, committing three turnovers in the last 90 seconds.

The Rockets have won seven of nine games since Yao returned from a broken leg. Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy wasn't thrilled about this one, particularly Houston's 17 turnovers.

"Well, we were disjointed, mostly because of turnovers and when you turn the ball over as much as we did, you're going to play poorly,'' Van Gundy said. "We didn't play particularly well. It wasn't good enough and we have to strive to do better.''

The Rockets outrebounded Indiana 53-41 to make up for 39 percent shooting and kept pace with Utah in the race for the fourth-best record in the Western Conference. The Jazz beat Golden State 104-100 and lead Houston by 1+ games.

The Pacers dropped percentage points behind New Jersey and Orlando in the race for the last two playoff spots in the East. Indiana ended an 11-game losing streak against Atlanta last Saturday, but Tuesday's game was the first of nine in a row against playoff-bound or contending teams.

"We needed a 'W' and we fought hard all game,'' said Tinsley. "But we are going to need to fight even harder. We need to find a way to win.''

Notes: The Rockets finished 5-for-21 from 3-point range (24 percent). ... Houston failed to reach 100 points for the second time in eight games. ... The Pacers went 1-for-10 from 3-point range.

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