78 - 99 Final
  for this game

Artest, Rockets pull away from Bobcats

Feb 23, 2009 - 3:08 AM HOUSTON (Ticker) -- Ron Artest led the way with 26 points as the Houston Rockets smothered the Charlotte Bobcats in the second half Sunday en route to a 99-78 victory.

Yao Ming added 19 points and seven rebounds and Luis Scola registered a double-double with 12 points and 10 boards as Houston continued its winning ways without Tracy McGrady.

The Rockets improved to 4-0 since McGrady announced he will miss the rest of the season to have microfracture surgery on his ailing left knee.

"It has been challenge to replace two starters (McGrady and Alston) but I have believed all along because when Tracy had been out before, we were able to plug people in and those guys performed," Houston coach Rick Adelman said. "And Aaron (Brooks), all along, I felt he was going to perform because he has done well every time he has started."

The Rockets dealt Rafer Alston in a three-team deal prior to Thursday's trade deadline and Brooks has stepped into the starting lineup, collecting seven points and three assists in 28 minutes Sunday.

Artest picked up the slack against the Bobcats, knocking down 9-of-15 from the field, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range. As a team, Houston hit 13-of-27 from deep while forcing 21 turnovers from Charlotte.

"I think we are starting to click. We are getting better and we are playing better defense. We are fighting and we are competing harder every day," Scola said. "That is pretty much what we need. We've got a lot of talent on this team. We have a lot of great players."

The Rockets led by only a pair at halftime, 44-42, before a dominant third-quarter performance. Houston outscored Charlotte, 29-14, out of the locker room and cruised to its fourth straight win.

"Like coach said about a week ago, winning these home games are an opportunity for us to turn this around and I think we have done well so far," Yao said. "We have two more games before we go on the road and we need to keep playing hard. We just need to keep playing like we have the past couple of games."

Gerald Wallace and Emeka Okafor recorded double-doubles for Charlotte, which opened a five-game road trip by dropping to 6-19 away from home. Okafor collected 13 points and 11 rebounds while Wallace added 11 and 10.

"The first half was close tonight, and it really seemed like we were closing the gap," Okafor said. "Then, they started hitting their shots and we weren't hitting ours. That is just the way it goes sometimes. We tried our best and put forth an effort, but it just wasn't enough against them."

Houston continued its stellar play at the Toyota Center, improving to 22-6 at home behind 65 percent shooting in the decisive quarter.

Yao scored the first six points of the period for the Rockets and Shane Battier drained a pair from beyond the arc to power the home team, which is now 15-6 without McGrady this season.

"I don't know if tonight our defense is that terrible when you have a post player like Yao and you have a player like Artest who can post. You've got to help, so you are going to give up open shots," Charlotte coach Larry Brown said.

"Our offense is awful. We ended every quarter poorly. We just turned the ball over so many times tonight that we really just put too much pressure on the defense."

Battier scored 12 points and Von Wafer added 13 off the bench for Houston.

Raymond Felton and Boris Diaw scored 13 points each for the Bobcats, who have lost eight of 11, including six straight on the road.