LOS ANGELES -- In a game where Tracy McGrady was merely a footnote and Ron Artest had a lackluster first half, the Houston Rockets nearly blew an early 15-point lead before reserve Carl Landry came to the rescue.
Artest finished with 23 points, Landry added six of his 20 points in the final 3 1/2 minutes, and the Rockets sent the Los Angeles Clippers to their sixth straight loss with a 92-83 victory Friday night.
"An ugly win is just as good as a good win," Rafer Alston said. "No matter what the other team's record is, you still have to come out and play."
Artest started out 4-for-13 from the field and finished 8-for-21. He scored eight points in the final 7 minutes of the third quarter to help Houston take a 71-66 lead into the fourth.
"The offense is there. We've got guys from Yao all the way to the last man on the bench. All 12 guys can put the ball in the hoop, but we've got to get better on defense," Landry said.
Yao Ming had 16 points and nine rebounds. McGrady, a two-time NBA scoring champ and seven-time All-Star, missed all five shots and finished with two points in 26 minutes after averaging 22 points in the Rockets' first five games.
"Even though we won tonight, it still wasn't an impressive game for the Houston Rockets," Artest said. "We're still searching to find ourselves."
The Rockets (4-2) could actually be 6-0 with a couple of breaks. But they lost at Portland in overtime Thursday night on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Brandon Roy -- just two days after Artest shot 3-for-16 in a four-point loss to Boston.
"When we were 3-0, we thought we were playing well. But we were just playing horrible," Artest said. "We haven't played good basketball yet. We need to play 48 minutes consistently. We have a long ways to go, but this was a good test for us. It's coming together and it's going to happen."
Chris Kaman had 23 points and 11 rebounds for Los Angeles. Baron Davis also scored 23 points and Marcus Camby had 13 rebounds. The Clippers lost forward Tim Thomas after he sprained his left ankle in the last minute of the first quarter.
Artest's 19-footer gave the Rockets an 84-73 cushion with 6:12 to play, and the Clippers got no closer than five on Camby's tip-in with 3:56 to play. Landry helped closed the deal with a two dunks and a layup.
"We're trying to learn each other and find out how we're going to win together," Artest said. "Some nights it's just going to be different people, and we've got to get used to that. I think sometimes we just step into the arena and think we're going to win, just because of our talent. And it can happen like that. But that's not going to beat the good teams. We really have to give a lot of effort."
The Clips are off to their longest winless start since losing their first 17 games of the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. They and the Washington Wizards (0-4) are the NBA's only remaining winless teams. Last season, Golden State had that distinction until it beat the Clippers 122-105 in their seventh game.
"Offensively, we just weren't able to finish. And until that starts to happen, I don't see us winning a game," Kaman said. "Defensively we are doing better and having a stronger effort as a team."
Los Angeles never led, shooting just 38 percent in the half and 43 percent overall. After trailing by as many as 15 points late in the first quarter, they got as close as 57-56 on Al Thornton's 21-footer with 8:22 left in the third.
Houston has beaten the Clippers in six straight meetings and 18 of the last 21. Two of the Rockets' losses during that stretch were at home, both of which McGrady missed because of back problems. The other was a loss at Staples Center in which McGrady got four of his 29 points in the second half and missed 10 of 12 shots after intermission.
Luis Scola scored all of his 14 points in the first quarter on 7-for-10 shooting, and Landry got 10 in the second to help Houston take a 49-41 halftime lead. Scola picked up two fouls 46 seconds apart, giving him five with 7:50 left in the third quarter and the Rockets leading 59-56.
One particularly frustrating sequence for Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy occurred late in the opening period, when Artest gave Houston a 25-10 lead with a layup after two offensive rebounds by the Rockets during the same possession. Chuck Hayes grabbed the first one after a missed 3-point shot by Artest, who then pulled down a missed 20-footer by McGrady.
Dunleavy called a 20-second timeout at that point to settle his team down. The Clippers responded with 12 consecutive points, slicing the deficit to three on rookie Eric Gordon's fast-break layup with 9:33 left in the half. But during that run, Thomas was fouled by Scola while cutting toward the basket to get a one-bounce pass from Davis, and needed assistance to get to the dressing room.
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