Shaq, Lakers dominate Yao to move into tie for first
Karl Malone had 20 points and 14 rebounds and Shaquille O'Neal contained Yao Ming as the streaking Los Angeles Lakers won their 10th straight game, 93-85 over the Houston Rockets on Thursday.
The Lakers moved into a tie for first place with the Sacramento Kings in the Pacific Division as they equalled their season-high for consecutive wins.
With Malone and Kobe Bryant now back in the line-up and healthy, the Lakers are starting to dominate in the Western Conference with their top four players on the court.
O'Neal added 18 points and eight rebounds for Los Angeles, but it was his ability to shut down Yao that was the big factor in handing the Rockets their sixth loss in nine games.
Yao had averaged 26.7 points in three previous games against the Lakers, two of them wins. This time he had just six points and eight rebounds.
"Yeah he's a great guy, he's a great center, but there's only one dominant big man," O'Neal said of Yao. "That's why they call me diesel.
"We came out, we played well and we were aggressive," he added. "Now we're tied for first."
Bryant led the Lakers with 26 points and Payton added 12 points and 13 rebounds as Los Angeles pulled away with a late fourth quarter run.
Cuttino Mobley led Houston with 26 points, while Steve Francis added 17 points and eight assists.
In Philadelphia, Darius Miles had 18 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Portland Trail Blazers to an important 88-82 win over the 76ers.
Portland moved into a tie with Utah for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with their ninth win in 12 games as the Trail Blazers look to extend their string of playoff appearances to 22 years.
Michael Finley scored 29 points and Steve Nash added a career-high 19 assists as the Dallas Mavericks beat the Sacramento Kings 127-117.