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Pistons no match for Yao, Rockets

Mar 23, 2007 - 5:25 AM HOUSTON (Ticker) -- The Detroit Pistons got their All-Star point guard back, but they still couldn't find anyone to guard Yao Ming.

Yao scored 27 points and blocked a shot with 21 seconds left to lead the Houston Rockets to their fifth straight game, 91-85, over the Eastern Conference-leading Pistons.

Chauncey Billups returned to the lineup after missing three games with a groin strain, but managed just 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting for the Pistons, who had a six-game road winning streak snapped.

Yao shot 10-of-19 from the floor and added seven rebounds.

"I watched a lot of (tape of the Pistons)," Yao said. "...When they don't come and double-team, I'm going to score. The fourth quarter is like the playoffs. (Detroit's) one of the best teams in the league. We hang on not too well. I don't think that's good enough.

"In the playoffs every minute is like the fourth quarter. Today I feel much better (conditioning-wise). I can run much longer. It will take a few more games (for me to be 100 percent), then we'll see."

The Rockets held a 75-56 lead entering the fourth quarter, but the Pistons began with a 26-11 and pulled within 86-82 on Billups' 3-pointer with 2:44 remaining. Houston stretched the lead to 90-85 before Detroit guard Carlos Delfino drove the lane on the game's final possession, but he was rejected by the 7-5 Yao.

"I was very happy with the first three quarters," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "In the fourth quarter we have a lead but we don't have a finishing mentality. If we don't correct that in the next 27 days (before the playoffs start), it will come back to bite us at the most inopportune time."

"Early in the game they did a good job defensively," Billups said. "They packed the paint and they jumped out on us. We made a game of it in the second half. We had them on their heels. It (groin strain) was tight early. It started loosening up after the half and then I attacked the basket and I was feeling better by the fourth quarter."

Tracy McGrady finished with 20 points and Rafer Alston added 16, including three 3-pointers, for Houston (44-25), which moved within a game of idle Utah (44-23) for fourth place in the Western Conference.

"We took our foot off the pedal in the fourth quarter," Alston said. "I got beat defensively off the dribble and we put them on the foul line in the fourth quarter. I was happy Yao got that block. Delfino made a good move on me and the big guy was there.

"We got the tempo going the way wanted early. We established Yao, we established Tracy. I feel the same way as Coach. He's waiting for us to take a lead and take it all the way to the end."

Antonio McDyess had 16 points off the bench, and Rasheed Wallace added 13 and nine rebounds for Detroit.

"We came out and fell behind too quickly," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. "They took us out of our penetration and we weren't able to make our shots. We started playing in the second half like we have been playing. When we start poorly we struggle and that puts a lot of pressure on us.

"I can't really yell at the refs because our guys are yelling so much I have to stay off them."

Houston jumped out to a 16-2 lead to begin the game and led by as much as 67-47 with 5:01 left in the third quarter when Yao hit a technical free throw to cap an 8-2 run.

The Rockets snapped a six-game losing streak to the Pistons with their first win in the series since Dec. 6, 2003. Houston is now 23-6 against Eastern Conference teams this season, with at least one win over every team in the East.

Detroit finished 3-of-17 from the arc. The Rockets have now held their last four opponents to a combined 10-of-46 from 3-point range.

Chuck Hayes is shooting 70.6 percent from the field over the last five games and averaging 11.4 points and 9 rebounds.

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