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Yao, Alston help Rockets answer Hornets comeback

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Even with their chances of making the
playoffs diminishing, Yao Ming and Rafer Alston haven't given up on
the Houston Rockets' season.

Yao and Alston each scored 22 points, carrying the Rockets in
the closing minutes of a 93-92 victory over the New Orleans Hornets
on Thursday night that snapped a six-game losing streak.

"Nobody likes to lose," Yao said. "Down the stretch with our
record, we have to know we have something, any reason for the
win."

The Hornets erased a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit and took
an 84-83 lead on David West's right-handed fast-break jam, but
Alston answered with buzzer-beating jumpers on back-to-back
possession as Houston scored the next eight points.

"Those gave us confidence going on to win the game," Yao said.
"He made a couple of big shots."

New Orleans' Chris Paul hit a 3-pointer from the left wing with
3.6 seconds left and Rasual Butler took advantage of a stolen
inbounds pass by West with another 3 at the buzzer to create the
final one-point margin.

The Rockets picked up their first win in 14 games against
Southwest Division foes this season. They were the last NBA team to
win a divisional game.

"That means zero because it doesn't matter who we win against,
whether it is a division team or not," Rockets coach Jeff Van
Gundy said. "We are happy any time we win."

In the process, Houston dealt New Orleans' playoff hopes a big
blow. After snapping an eight-game losing streak Tuesday by beating
the Los Angeles Clippers, the Hornets needed a win to tie idle
Sacramento for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

"That's always I think in everybody's back of their mind,"
said Hornets guard Kirk Snyder, who was 3-for-16. "We obviously
want to be in the playoffs. We're not just sitting here saying we
don't want to be in the playoffs. We've just got to find a way to
use that as positive motivation."

Juwan Howard had 16 points and 12 rebounds and Keith Bogans
added 14 points for Houston, which is 3-19 this season without
Tracy McGrady. The Rockets are the 11th place team in the West, 4½
games behind Sacramento.

"You just got to start with a win," Alston said. "That way
the snowball effect can start going uphill instead of downhill."

West had 14 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Hornets, who also
got 13 points from Paul and 12 apiece from Butler and P.J. Brown.

"We're still not confident in what we're doing from game to
game," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "I'm still not sure what
I'm going to get from everybody. There's certain guys that I know
what I'm going to get, but there's too many guys that I don't."

The Hornets finished the first half with a 19-5 run to take a
54-45 lead on two free throws from West, but then missed their
first eight shots of the second half as the Rockets pulled back
within two after four straight points by Yao and a 3-pointer by
Luther Head.

Bogans then put Houston into the lead with a 3-pointer from the
right wing, and the Rockets finished the third quarter on a 12-2
run to head into the final period with a 71-64 lead.

"We came out in the third quarter and acted like we were
walking in the park," Scott said. "Then as the game gets tight,
we try to turn that light switch back on. Very rarely in this
league are you going to be able to do that."

Game notes
After starting March by going 1-7 against teams with
records above .500, the Hornets opened a stretch with five of their
next six opponents against teams at or below .500. ... New Orleans
made all 17 of its free throws in the first half, then missed its
only two attempts in the second half. ... The Rockets are 17-17 on
the road and 13-22 at home. ... The Hornets are averaging 27.7
third-quarter points in their last eight wins and 19 in their last
10 losses. ... New Orleans started last season 0-14 against
Southwest Division foes before beating Memphis on March 26.