HOUSTON: Yao Ming scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to power the Houston Rockets to a 102-88 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in a battle for fourth place in the Western Conference on Sunday.
The victory inched the Rockets (49-28) a half-game ahead of the Trail Blazers (48-28) in the West and snapped Portland's four-game win streak. The Rockets, 31-8 at home this season, also closed within a half-game of third-placed San Antonio (49-27).
"We did a good job today of battling under the basket. We really contained them on the defensive end," Yao told reporters after the Rockets collected 30 of their 42 rebounds on defense.
"It was a terrific win for us," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "The guys came out the way we needed to and it was good because we finished the game. We played well in the fourth quarter to put it away."
Both Houston and Portland are assured playoff spots. Despite the defeat, the Trail Blazers claimed their berth on Sunday when Dallas defeated Phoenix.
Houston had four other players in double figures, Luis Scola collected 16 points, Ron Artest had 15, Aaron Brooks contributed 14 and reserve Von Wafer finished with 12.
"There was a lot on the court today, not just the fourth spot which we have now, but also the tie breaker," Scola said. "It was also a good statement for whoever won the game."
LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy both had 22 points for Portland.
Houston rushed to a 54-43 halftime lead behind Yao's 11 points but Portland cut the lead to five points at 65-60 in the third before the Rockets went on a 7-0 run.
The Trail Blazers rallied to within four early in the fourth before another surge by the Rockets, this time for six consecutive points, put Houston comfortably ahead.
"You have to be physical and we didn't establish that from the start," Portland coach Nate McMillan said.
The Trail Blazers made the postseason for the first time in six years.
"I congratulated the guys for getting there but our work is still not done," McMillan said. "We have a chance for home court and we have to keep working for it."