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McGrady, Yao lead way as Rockets clinch playoff berth

Mar 27, 2007 - 5:17 AM HOUSTON (Ticker) -- The Houston Rockets will be returning to the playoffs this season after a one-year absence.

Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming scored 22 points each as the Rockets easily dispatched the Milwaukee Bucks, 106-87.

McGrady shot 9-of-18 from the floor, dished out nine assists and grabbed four steals and Yao added seven rebounds as the Rockets clinched a playoff berth.

"This is a big win," Houston forward Shane Battier said. "You can't pooh-pooh a win. Especially at the end of the year. We are still trying to improve. It is not a matter of just winning. It is a matter of gaining momentum and getting our execution down and that is what wins this time of year."

Houston jumped out to a 33-20 lead after the first quarter and did not let up, building the lead to as much as 81-58 in the third quarter. Luther Head capped off a 12-0 run with a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left in the period.

The Rockets, who had six players in double figures, have now won nine of 12 games since Yao returned from an injured leg March 5.

"We had six guys in double figures?" Yao said. "Wow, that is the good part. That is the good part, but we can play better. We still need to learn."

Head scored 13 points off the bench and was 3-of-5 from the arc and Rafer Alston added 13 for the Rockets, who trail the Utah Jazz (45-24) by one game in the race for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

"You never take it for granted," Battier said. "You never take clinching for granted, even this early. But honestly, it's not about wins and losses. It's about playing well and we still need to get better.

"We need to play to our strengths every night and if we do that, we're going to win our fair share of games. We need to play well to keep the pressure on Utah. We still play them two more times this year in these last 11 games and it is a good time to raise up the intensity."

Michael Redd scored 26 points and Charlie Bell added 20 for the undermanned Bucks, who added point guard Mo Williams to their long injury list. He sat out the game with an upper respiratory illness. Andrew Bogut, Charlie Villanueva and Bobby Simmons already are out for the season.

"He just wasn't feeling well this morning and we didn't really know until game time if (Mo) would be able to go," Bucks coach Krystkowiak said.

Rockets forward Chuck Hayes left the game in the first quarter with a strained left shoulder. He is listed as day-to-day.

Houston has now qualified for the playoffs in three of coach Jeff Van Gundy's first four seasons in Texas.

The Rockets also extended their winning streak over the Bucks to five games. Houston has also captured its last seven home games against Milwaukee.

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