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Basketball - 17. April 2007.

USA - Yao, McGrady fire Rockets to home-court advantage

USA - Yao, McGrady fire Rockets to home-court advantage

HOUSTON (NBA) - China center Yao Ming teamed up with Tracy McGrady to combine for 73 points as the Houston Rockets clinched home-court advantage for the first round of the NBA play-offs with a 120-117 win over the Phoenix Suns.

The win means Houston can relax when they face the Utah Jazz - their closest rivals for the fourth seed - on Wednesday.

Yao had 34 points and nine rebounds in support of McGrady, who scored 39 points and added 11 rebounds and nine assists, just missing his first triple-double since February 2003.

"I took my game to another level," McGrady said. "Other guys stepped up and played extremely well. Yao comes back and we play great basketball. I know how important it is for a team to be playing extremely well going into the post-season, and that's why I wanted to take my game to another level."

Team USA forward Shane Battier scored 17 points and gave the Rockets a 118-108 lead with a three-pointer with 2:11 to play. The Suns scored seven straight points to make it 118-115 with 48 seconds left.

McGrady missed a jumper and the Suns had a chance to tie but Steve Nash was short on a three-pointer with eight seconds to play and Amare Stoudemire also missed from the arc with 6.4 to go.

Stoudemire scored 30 points and Shawn Marion had 27 for Phoenix (61-20), who have already locked up the number two seed in the Western Conference.
Houston’s win meant that a 130-93 victory for the Utah Jazz over Portland was in vain.

Carlos Boozer scored 26 points in the win, but it was not enough to prevent the Northwest Division champions from starting their play-off campaign on the road.

Croatia’s Gordan Giricek scored 15 of his season-high 21 points in the fourth quarter for Utah, who matched their season high in points.

The Jazz took control for good in the second quarter, turning a single-digit deficit into a 20-point lead with an 11-2 run that put them up 60-41 with 2:48 remaining in the first half.

Travis Outlaw scored a season-high 26 points for the Trail Blazers.

Both the Denver Nuggets and New Jersey Nets are heading in to the play-offs in fine form.

Allen Iverson scored 25 points and Carmelo Anthony, one of the Team USA captains, added 21 as the Nuggets crushed the Minnesota Timberwolves, 122-107.

Lithuania’s Linas Kleiza had 23 points and 10 rebounds and Brazil international Nene added 18 and 10 for Denver, who will face the third-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the Western Conference play-offs.

In New York, Vince Carter posted the fourth triple-double of his career, collecting 29 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists for the New Jersey Nets in a 104-95 win over the Knicks.

Carter connected on seven of 14 from the floor, including three of five from three-point range for New Jersey, who have beaten New York six straight times here.

Slovenia’s Bostjan Nachbar added 19 points for the Nets.

The win moves the Nets within one-half game of the slumping Washington Wizards for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.

But while the Nuggets and the Nets were just warming up, the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat have chosen to take their foot off the pedal and rest up. They paid the price in defeats on Monday night.

Spain star Pau Gasol - perhaps playing his final few games for Memphis as trade rumours continue to swirl - helped the Grizzlies end a seven-game skid with a 101-91 win over the Spurs.

Gasol scored 25 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and had six assists in the victory, giving the Grizzlies back-to-back wins for just the second time this season.

Al Jefferson hit a jump hook with one tenth of a second left to lift the Boston Celtics to a 91-89 win over the Heat, who gave Dwyane Wade - another Team USA captain - and Shaquille O’Neal extended time on the bench.

Outside of the play-offs, David West scored 25 points and USA international point guard Chris Paul added 23 and 12 assists in a 125-118 win for the New Orleans Hornets over the Sacramento Kings.

Mo Williams scored 26 points and Ruben Patterson added 23 for the Milwaukee Bucks, who beat the Atlanta Hawks 102-96.

Ian Parker
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