Rockets clinch No. 4 seed with win over Suns

Rockets clinch No. 4 seed with win over Suns



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HOUSTON (AP) -- Tracy McGrady had 39 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists as the Houston Rockets clinched the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference with a 120-117 win over the Phoenix Suns on Monday night.

Yao Ming added 34 points and nine rebounds for the Rockets, who won their fifth straight game and snapped a six-game losing streak to Phoenix.

The Rockets secured their best record since 1997 and will open their first-round playoff series against Utah at home next weekend.

Amare Stoudemire scored 30 points and Shawn Marion added 27 for the Suns, who used their starters most of the game even though they had already clinched the No. 2 seed in the West. Steve Nash added 15 points and 15 assists.

The game had playoff intensity from the start, and despite building a double-digit lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Rockets had to sweat out their first victory over the Suns in Houston since 2003.

Leandro Barbosa started the rally with a layup and a 3-pointer. Nash then intercepted a bad pass by Luther Head and found Stoudemire for a dunk to trim Houston's lead to 118-115 with 48.5 seconds left.

McGrady missed a 3-pointer and the Suns rebounded with one last chance to tie. Nash missed a 3-pointer with 6.4 seconds left, but the ball ricocheted off Head and out of bounds.

Stoudemire missed another 3-pointer and Marion tipped it in, but that only cut the deficit to one. Rafer Alston was fouled and hit two free throws for the final margin.

McGrady hit 14 of 31 shots and missed his first triple-double since 2003 by one assist. Yao was 14-of-20 and 6-for-6 from the free throw line.

McGrady scored 25 points in the fast-paced first half, smoothly sinking jumpers from every angle. Every time McGrady scored, the Suns answered.

McGrady also had five assists in the half, the last to Yao for a hook shot with 5.2 seconds left before the break. Yao blocked a shot by Stoudemire in the closing seconds, but Stoudemire got the rebound and threw in a mid-range shot at the buzzer to cut Houston's lead to 56-54.

Stoudemire was 8-for-12 and scored 20 points in the opening half.

McGrady came up with the shot of the night a minute into the second half, driving past Stoudemire for an up-and-under reverse layup. Unfazed, Stoudemire responded with a mid-range jumper at the other end.

McGrady sank his second 3-pointer and Yao converted a three-point play to start a 19-4 Rockets run that broke a 66-66 tie.

Phoenix made 17 of 21 shots during one stretch between the second and third quarters, then missed four of the next five as the Rockets pulled away.

McGrady hit a fadeaway from the baseline and drove for a layup to put the Rockets up 85-70.

Dikembe Mutombo had two tip-ins in the last minute of the third quarter as Houston took a 91-79 lead into the fourth. After three periods, Houston had outscored the Suns 28-4 in second-chance points.

The Suns rallied with Nash on the bench. Marion scored twice inside and James Jones hit a 3-pointer from the wing to cut Houston's lead to 93-86 with just under 10 minutes left.

Phoenix closed the gap to five before Shane Battier's 3-pointer from the corner put Houston up 100-92.

Nash and Stoudemire returned after long rests with 7:03 left, but Head hit a 3-pointer and Yao scored inside over the next minute to push the lead back into double-digits.

The Suns mustered one more rally in the final minutes, but couldn't complete their second straight regular-season sweep of Houston.

The Suns had a five-game winning streak snapped.

Game notes The Rockets honored retiring general manager Carroll Dawson at halftime. Dawson spent 27 years with the Rockets, the last 11 as GM. "I look forward to many years in the stands hollering for these guys," Dawson told the crowd. During timeouts, the scoreboard showed videotaped messages to Dawson from NBA commissioner David Stern, Jerry West, Larry Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon and Rudy Tomjanovich. ... Phoenix can match a franchise record for regular-season wins with a victory over the Clippers on Tuesday. ... The Rockets reached their highest victory total since going 57-25 in 1996-97. ... Houston Texans defensive end Mario Williams had a courtside seat.

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