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Yao's big game leads Rockets past Magic

Mar 12, 2007 - 2:43 AM HOUSTON (Ticker) -- It seems Yao Ming is back to early-season form, which could be bad news for the rest of the NBA.

Yao scored 37 points - one off his season high - and had five blocks as the Houston Rockets posted a 103-92 victory over the Orlando Magic, which has lost 10 of their last 11 road games.

Tracy McGrady had 19 points and 10 assists and Juwan Howard scored 14 points off the bench for Houston, which has won three straight games and nine of 10 vs. Orlando.

Yao, who played in his fourth contest since a knee injury knocked him out for 32 games, had his best effort since his return, going 14-of-22 from the field while grabbing seven rebounds.

"I needed to keep moving," Yao said. "They had two big guys on the inside, so if I just stood around, it played to their strength.

"I just needed to move my feet, use the pick-and-roll, catch and score. Rafer (Alston) and T-Mac did a great job on that, giving me a lot of easy catches right under the basket."

The five-time All-Star had 16 points on 7-of-8 from the floor as the Rockets led, 58-45, at halftime.

"Houston did exactly what we were scared they would do coming in, and that's jump out early," Magic forward Grant Hill said. "That's been their MO, especially when they are at home."

It was Yao's fifth game of 35 points or more in 2006-07 and one less than the 38 he had against Golden State on December 14.

"Yao was particularly sharp through the first three quarters," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "He did some good things."

"We want to make a big playoff run and a championship run, and Yao Ming is going to be the driving force behind it," Howard added.

Houston shot 53 percent (36-of-68) and handed out 30 assists, one off its season high. The Rockets are 16-1 at home when they break the century mark.

"We're just moving the ball and searching for the open man," McGrady said. "We are blessed with a post presence, a guy who is really dominant down there. Our job is to search him out, especially on the pick-and-roll."

"I thought that we played a balanced game, Rockets forward Shane Battier added. "We came out with a lot of energy. When we rebound, we seem to have a lot more success."

Hill scored 17 points and Dwight Howard added 16 and 12 rebounds for the Magic (29-35), who fell one-half game behind idle New York (29-34) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Darko Milicic had 15 points and nine rebounds for Orlando, which shot 45 percent (38-of-84) in losing for the fifth time in its last six games.

"I wasn't disappointed in the way we came out," Magic coach Brian Hill said. "Houston made its shots and hit some big threes to get going at the start. When you get down by 20 late in the game you have to start thinking about your next game."

The double-double by Dwight Howard was his 45th of the season, which ranks second in the league to Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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