for this game

Rockets rout Clippers, clinch playoff berth

Apr 7, 2008 - 5:15 AM By Jonathan Raber PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- Nearly a year later, Elton Brand returned to the Staples Center floor. His homecoming, however, was spoiled by the Houston Rockets.

Rookie Aaron Brooks scored 18 and fellow first-year player Luis Scola added 16 as the Rockets clinched a spot in the playoffs with a 105-79 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.

Tracy McGrady, who has been battling a sprained left shoulder, nearly notched a triple-double with 13 points, nine assists and eight rebounds for Houston, which had six players reach double figures and won its fifth consecutive game here against the Clippers.

"We knew we were going to make the playoffs," McGrady said. "That's not what this team is really all about. I think our thing is - what are we going to do when we get there?"

The Rockets (52-25) remained 2 1/2 games behind the conference-leading New Orleans Hornets (54-22) and currently occupy the fifth spot in the West.

"With this Wild West, you never know what's going to happen," Brooks said. "We went from first to fifth in one day. We're in a great spot and we just want to go ahead and do it and we took care of business (Sunday)."

Houston has continued to excel despite the absence of center Yao Ming, who is out for the remainder of the season because of a stress fracture in his left foot. But the injury hasn't prevented the Rockets from staying afloat in the standings.

"The day Yao Ming went down, everyone counted us out," McGrady said. "That was the one thing we wanted to prove to people, we were still a team that was going to make the playoffs. We accomplished that."

Brand got a roaring ovation during player introductions in his third game back since missing the season's first 74 with a ruptured left Achilles tendon. His last game in front of the Clippers' faithful came on April 18, 2007 - a three-point loss to the Hornets.

The franchise's centerpiece at power forward, Brand played 36 minutes, finishing with 22 points and eight rebounds for Los Angeles.

"I had a little anxiety at the beginning," Brand said. "But once I calmed down and hit my shots, blocked some shots and got into the flow, it felt good."

"He still has the heart and he is still able to create plays and opportunities for himself," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "I am looking forward to seeing him keep improving as the next five games unfold."

The Rockets took control of the game for good in the second quarter, going on a 19-4 run during a 4 1/2-minute stretch which resulted in a 56-36 lead with 4:15 left before the half.

The Clippers battled back to get within 13 points at the end of the third, before the Rockets closed them out.

Luther Head's layup and free throw highlighted a 7-0 run midway through the fourth to give the Rockets a 93-73 edge and outscoring the Clippers, 25-12, in the fourth.

Despite an off-shooting night for McGrady, the Rockets' star was able to find his teammates in favorable positions for open looks.

"When you can't make shots, you've got to do something else. You've got to bring something else to the party," said McGrady, who hit 5-of-16 attempts. "I didn't bring any shots, any scoring, so I just tried to create something."

Josh Powell had a career-high 22 points and added 10 rebounds to pace the Clippers, who have dropped 13 of 15 contests.

The Clippers' leading scorer, Corey Maggette suffered a strained right hamstring midway through the opening quarter and did not return.

"It's ironic, I come back and now Corey has a hamstring," Brand said. "We can't catch a break. We're trying to feel confident out there, show our fans we're gonna work hard every play and turn this into a winning franchise again."

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