Utah 101, Houston 91 (F)

SALT LAKE CITY, April 18 (AP)-- If the opening round of the playoffs comes down to reserves, the Utah Jazz just might have an edge against the Houston Rockets.

The Jazz closed the regular season by beating a diluted version of the Rockets 101-91 on Wednesday night, days before the teams open the playoffs against each other in Houston.

Houston's Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming sat out the game, which could not impact either team in the playoff standings, and Utah's starters rested the entire fourth quarter. So Utah's victory and a 45-25 rebounding advantage probably weren't a real good indicator of what's to come when the Rockets and Jazz are both back at full strength this weekend.

"Guys are excited. Guys are ready,'' said Utah's Deron Williams, who had four points and four assists in a very short night. "We're over there on the bench talking about how it's going to be a fun series.''

Dee Brown scored a career-high 13 points and fellow rookie Paul Millsap added 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Jazz, who dominated the boards against the Yao-less Rockets.

The series was going to open in Houston no matter what, so McGrady didn't even dress and Yao stayed in his warmups all game. That took 49.6 points worth of scoring average away from the Rockets, but coach Jeff Van Gundy wasn't going to take any chances on injuring either of his star players in a game that really didn't mean much.

And neither Van Gundy nor Utah coach Jerry Sloan were about to reveal anything they might have planned for the postseason.

"I think they're good. They're very good,'' Van Gundy said. "I think we're pretty good, too.''

Houston had won five straight entering the game to clinch home-court advantage against Utah, even though it is the lower seed. The No. 5 Rockets (52-30) have a better record than the fourth-seeded Jazz (51-31) and the first two games of the series will be in Houston.

"It's going to be a fun, physical series,'' Williams said.

Juwan Howard led the Rockets with 20 points and Luther Head added 18. Kirk Snyder scored 14 and Vassilis Spanoulis tied his career high with 13 points for Houston, which opened the game on a 19-5 run.

The Jazz were booed during the listless first quarter, but opened the second period on an 11-2 run and scored five straight at the end of the period for a 50-47 halftime lead and led the rest of the way.

"Utah's a very good team. Obviously they've shown that throughout the season,'' Howard said.

Utah's starters came out for the third quarter, but were all on the bench by the time the period ended and left the Jazz offense to Brown, Millsap and Ronnie Brewer, Utah's rookie class which is about to make its playoff debut.

Brown, who had never scored more than 12, also had five rebounds and three steals.

"I was happy with our guys off the bench. They seemed to be enthused,'' Sloan said. "The fans were excited about it and I tried to give them more minutes.''

Mehmet Okur scored 12 points and was the only Utah starter in double figures. Andrei Kirilenko was the only starter to play more than 19 minutes for the Jazz, but that was mostly due to him missing five of the last six games with a thumb injury and trying to get back into shape for the playoffs.

Notes: The Jazz finished the regular season at 51-31, their best finish since going 53-29 six years ago. ... The Rockets finished 52-30, their best season since going 57-25 in 1996-97. ... Shane Battier and Rafer Alston both started all 82 games for the Rockets this season. ... Rafael Araujo added a season-high eight points for Utah.


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