Home is indeed sweet in Jazz-Rockets series

Home is indeed sweet in Jazz-Rockets series

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By DOUG ALDEN AP Sports Writer

The Houston Rockets still have home-court advantage against Utah. Everything else seems to be going the Jazz's way.

Utah won both games in Salt Lake City and sent the series back to Houston tied at two games apiece, leaving the Rockets perplexed at how they could play so well at home and so miserably on the road.

"They're playing with a great deal of confidence right now. So we ... we got to search," Houston's Tracy McGrady said.

Any swagger the Rockets had after taking a 2-0 lead last week in Houston is long gone. The series resumes Monday night in Houston with Game 5.

McGrady scored just 18 points when the Rockets lost 98-85 on Saturday. It wasn't much of an improvement over Thursday when Utah won 81-67 -- Houston's lowest playoff point total.

Utah toughened up on defense in the second half of both games, and the Rockets yielded without much resistance either time.

"I'm not totally surprised at the outcome of these games but I am surprised at the way they went down," McGrady said. "I've got to inspire my teammates, whether it's at practice or pulling them aside, or getting up into them. Whatever it may be, we need to find a way."

The Rockets made just 53 of 140 shots in Utah and turned the ball over 35 times. Houston had just 23 turnovers in the first two games.

Nobody, including McGrady and Yao Ming, has played well for the Rockets the last two games.

"It's not just getting one guy in gear. We've got to get our team competing at a higher level," Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said.

The Jazz sense their confidence is back.

"We were a little surprised at how physical the playoffs really are, but now we've got our legs back under us," Utah's Matt Harpring said. "It is great to see how much energy we are playing with and our defense is great."

Forward Carlos Boozer has had a double-double in every game, averaging 22 points and 11 rebounds, and Deron Williams has averaged 16.5 points and almost eight assists. Neither is playing as if this is his first playoffs.

"In the first two games, we lost the game in the third quarter," Williams said. "So we made it a point to come out strong in the second half in these last two games. Even when we got them down 14 and 15 points, we kept going like the score was 0-0."

Mehmet Okur has suddenly become a defensive specialist, holding Yao to fewer points each game. And as the scoring from Yao and McGrady has dwindled, so have the Rockets.

Yao said it's understandable when a team loses its will during a regular-season game, but doing so two straight times in the the playoffs clearly is troubling.

"It's about mental toughness," Yao said. "Mental toughness."

Game 6 will be Thursday in Utah. The Rockets will either be trying to avoid another first-round exit or be one game from advancing. It's familiar territory. Two years ago, the Rockets beat Dallas in the first two games of the opening round, but ended up losing the series 4-3.

The Jazz, meanwhile, aren't remembering any postseason collapses. Only three of them were with the team the last time it made the playoffs in 2003.

"We have a lot of confidence right now in the way we have played the last two games," Williams said. "I think we just have to take that same intensity, that same energy with us to Houston."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-04-29-07 1407MDT

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