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Rockets back in series

Rockets back in series

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By DOUG ALDEN AP Sports Writer

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Jazz will be going back to Texas next week, after all.

Whether they take a 3-1 lead with them or a 2-2 tie will depend on what happens Saturday against the Houston Rockets, who are back in the series after a 94-92 win on the road Thursday.

"We won last night and the whole mood changed," Houston coach Rick Adelman said Friday.

Utah forward Carlos Boozer yelled to his teammates, "We're not coming back!" as the Jazz left the floor following a 90-84 win Monday that put Utah up 2-0 with the series headed back to Salt Lake City for two games.

The Rockets may not have heard the comment on the floor at the Toyota Center, but it certainly got back to them and gave a little satisfaction to guaranteeing that there will be a fifth game back in Houston on Tuesday.

"That's just Boozer being confident in his team," said Tracy McGrady, who led the Rockets on a 10-0 run late in the fourth quarter that gave them a big enough lead to hold off the Jazz. "(But) it was a premature statement. They've got to come back now."

McGrady scored seven straight points during the run, which put Houston up 93-86 with 1:42 left to play. Utah rallied with back-to-back 3-pointers from Kyle Korver and Mehmet Okur and had a chance to win it, down 93-92 with time to set up a play to win it.

But rookie Carl Landry, missing a tooth that was knocked out by an elbow from Boozer in the first half, was there to block Deron Williams' shot with 3 seconds left. Luis Scola added a free throw for Houston with two-tenths of a second left and the Jazz didn't get off another shot.

McGrady was credited with finally leading his team down the stretch after scoring just one point total in the fourth quarter of the two games in Houston. He cared much less about the credit than getting a crucial win that kept the Rockets from falling behind 3-0 in the series.

"It doesn't matter, man. It really doesn't," said McGrady, a two-time scoring champion. "You're going to have some good, you're going to have some bad. I've had a lot of good in my career. A lot of good."

McGrady had some help, too. Houston forced six turnovers in the fourth quarter while outscoring the Jazz, 24-16.

The Rockets' self-assessment was that they played poorly in the series opener, improved in Game 2 and got better again Thursday. Landry grabbing 11 rebounds helped, as did the return of point guard Rafer Alston.

Alston missed the end of the regular season and the first two games of the series with a strained right hamstring, but the layoff didn't seem to hurt him in the slightest. He made his first five shots Thursday and gave the Jazz someone to worry about other than McGrady.

"He made a lot of difference," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said.

Utah has led 13 playoff series 2-0 and ended up losing only two, the last coming to Dallas in 2001 when the first round was only five games. The opening round is now best-of-seven, which the Jazz don't want to push to the limit after winning two games at Houston and then blowing it at home.

If the Rockets win one of the next two, there will also be at least a Game 6 back in Utah next Friday. As much as the Jazz like their chances at EnergySolutions Arena, they would rather not play at home again until the second round.

The Jazz can still put the Rockets in a huge hole by winning Game 4.

"It's just one loss. We're still up 2-1. We still control the series," Williams said.

Utah's biggest weakness this series has been free throws. After making 27-for-40 (68 percent) in the first two games, the Jazz were even worse on Thursday, going 20-for-33 and missing four of six in the fourth quarter.

The Rockets were giving Utah plenty of chances.

"We missed 13 free throws. In a game like that, you've got to be able to knock them down," Sloan said. "We had other things we could have probably done a little better job of. We missed some layups, we got some shots blocked. I think you have to give them credit for most of those things."

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-04-25-08 1726MDT

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