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Saturday November 24, 2007 1:04 AM


Rockets drop sixth straight after rough finish


Miami 98, Houston 91



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Damien Pierce
Rockets.com Staff Writer

MIAMI -- Before arriving in South Beach, Tracy McGrady jokingly suggested on a Miami radio station that Shaquille O'Neal was running on a quarter-tank of gas.

The Rockets, though, were the ones that ran out of gas on Friday night.

Before a sellout crowd at American Airlines Arena, the Rockets once again struggled with the game on the line as Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat pulled away in the closing minutes for a 98-91 victory.

Houston, which dropped below .500 for the first time this season with a 6-7 record, was dealt its sixth straight loss for the first time in two seasons. The latest setback ended much like the others.

Despite rallying from an 11-point deficit and pulling within a possession of Miami five times in the fourth quarter, the Rockets couldn't make enough baskets or defensive stops in the waning moments to cap off the comeback.

The Heat (3-9) instead closed with a game-determining 8-1 run, riding Wade to the finish. The Heat guard scored 14 of his game-high 31 points in the fourth quarter.

"Dwyane Wade took over," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "But we're just not getting enough production from other people. We got to find a way to involve other people because they're taking the ball out of Tracy's hands. We have to find a way."

The Rockets simply haven't been able to do that over the past two weeks.

During their current losing skid, the Rockets have been within a possession of their opponents in five of the six losses. That wasn't any different against the Heat. Despite struggling to keep O'Neal out of the paint and allowing the Heat to shoot above 50 percent throughout the game, the Rockets had their chances to steal the road win.

With 3:09 remaining, Luis Scola buried a 17-footer that pulled Houston within 88-86. But that's as close as Houston would ever get.

Behind Wade, the Heat went on their game-ending charge. The do-everything guard hit a 17-footer to push Miami's advantage back to four points and, following a McGrady free throw, Wade hit an off-balnce jumper after drawing a foul from Shane Battier. He sank the free throw, extending Miami's lead to 93-87.

The Rockets couldn't keep pace as they missed five shots over Miami's run.

"We can't finish," said Rockets center Yao Ming, who had 20 points before fouling out. "We need to play harder on defense and to be smarter on offense. We just didn't do that."

The Rockets spent almost the entire trying to keep pace with the Heat.

Despite all the recent talk of O'Neal losing a step and lacking motivation to play, the Heat center looked inspired in his latest showdown against Yao. The Heat's big man had eight points in the opening 12 minutes, slamming a couple of dunks over the Rockets center.

After taking a 50-49 lead into the break, the Heat went back to O'Neal to start the third quarter. He added another 10 points in the period, well on his way to a season-high 26 point ands 14 rebounds. He made 10-of-12 shots from the field.

The Heat ended up shooting a sizzling 55.4 percent from the field.

"He played like he did in the two games my rookie year," said Yao, who was dominated by O'Neal in his first season. "It will be a big honor for me if Shaq saves it just for me."

Still, the Rockets had their chances. Scola provided a boost with 20 points and nine rebounds off the bench, while Miami missed 15 free throws to allow Houston to hang around.

But like the previous five games, the Rockets couldn't make enough plays in the fourth quarter to pull out the win.

"It's tough to be on a six-game losing streak because I know how good we can be," McGrady said. "We got to play better. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. We got a game (Saturday against Denver) and we got to suit up and we got to play. It's plain and simple. We got to want it."

Notable: Rockets guard Bonzi Wells left Friday's game in the third quarter with a sore right ankle. He will have an MRI exam on Saturday after X-rays came back negative.