for this game

Mutombo spells Yao as Rockets rout Wizards

Feb 27, 2008 - 5:19 AM By Gene Duffey PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

HOUSTON (Ticker) -- Replacing the injured Yao Ming, veteran center Dikembe Mutombo didn't look his age against the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night.

The 41-year-old Mutombo was at his rebounding and shot-blocking best in the first quarter to ignite the Houston Rockets to their 13th straight win, a 94-69 victory over the Washington Wizards.

It was a much-needed performance for the Rockets, who learned Tuesday morning that Yao will be out for the season with a stress fracture in his left foot.

Yao's absence is a huge blow to Houston, which had leaned on the superstar tandem of Yao and Tracy McGrady to put itself in the thick of the hectic playoff race in the talented Western Conference.

"That was a devastating blow," McGrady said of Yao's loss. "Everybody is really counting us out, which is cool, but we have to keep believing. If we play this hard like we did tonight and, if we continue to play defense and believe, then we really control it ourselves."

Mutombo scored four points, grabbed three rebounds and made two finger-wagging blocks in the first 11 minutes before taking a rest with the Rockets running away to a 24-12 lead at the end of the first quarter.

"He set the tone right from the start," Rockets rookie Carl Landry said of Mutombo. "I was so excited, I couldn't wait to get out there and play with him."

No one was sure what to expect from Mutombo, who had played in only one game since January 8.

"It was amazing to watch him play," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "You have to admire him so much. He plays with heart. He controls the defensive end."

Mutombo returned from the shower to see a group of reporters surrounding his locker.

"Last time I had the media like this was 2007," said Mutombo, who started 33 games last season in place of an injured Yao. "I feel good. Our practices have been hard. Even the guys who don't play much still go through the same routine (as the regulars)."

The 7-2 Mutombo had fallen out of the rotation in the last couple of months, playing in just 14 games this season before Monday and only one since January 8. Last season, he started 33 games in place of Yao.

He let everyone know early he still had it, scoring the first basket of the game on a layup and adding a 10-foot baseline jumper later in the quarter.

"I felt a little wind out there, especially in the first quarter," Mutombo said. "About the four-minute mark, I said it's been a while. (Adelman) did a good job of trying not to burn me up too much."

Luther Head scored 18 points and Mutombo collected four points, six rebounds and four blocks in 23 minutes for Houston.

"We knew they would come out and play well without Yao," said Wizards forward Antawn Jamison, who led his team with 18 points.

With the Rockets rolling, Adelman was able to rest Mutombo for the rest of the half while his teammates built their to lead 51-23 by halftime.

Washington was playing its fifth game in seven days and it showed, shooting just 31 percent from the field.

"We were drained, but you have to give Houston credit," Washington coach Eddie Jordan said. "After the announcement with Yao, they came ready to play. They made us take tough shots, and we didn't make them."

Mutombo returned to start the second half but didn't score in the third quarter. However, he continued to rebound, blocked another shot and helped the Rockets stay comfortably in front.

"Mutombo started things off and made his presence felt early," Washington center Brendan Haywood said.

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