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Tuesday, March 21, 2006 

HOUSTON, WE HAVE NO PROBLEM

Houston exploited the earlier absence of Corey Maggette from the Clippers' lineup to take a 2-1 lead in the season series, but without Tracy McGrady and David Wesley, one All-Star wasn't enough for the Rockets to keep the Clips from salvaging a split with last night's 99-91 win at Toyota Center. The victory evened the Clips' road record again at 16-16 and tied a Clipper record for most road wins. The franchise record of 19 road wins remains within reach.

Coach Dunleavy may sound silly when he says, "I thought we did a great job of defending Yao Ming even though he had 25 points." But he's right: Yao had been averaging 31 in the Rockets' previous seven games. Chris Kaman continued to struggle against Yao, picking up two quick fouls, but Dunleavy replaced Chris with Vladimir Radmanovic at halftime and assigned Elton Brand to defend Yao. The strategy worked, as the Clips' quick double teams and rotations -- not to mention two big blocks by EB on Yao -- kept the Rockets out of rhythm.

Forced into tough shots late in the shot clock, Houston hit under 43% overall and under 19% from downtown, while the Clips connected on 48% and 40%, respectively. Sam Cassell balanced Yao with 24 points on 9-16 shooting, while fellow former Rocket Cuttino Mobley contributed 14, Brand a quiet 15, and Kaman nine, including two big baskets in the fourth that, after six lead changes and nine ties, put the Clips ahead to stay.

But Houston's starting five outscored L.A.'s, 80-64, including 20 by hot-shooting Rocket rookie Luther Head. The key to the win -- and it's becoming a trend -- was the Clipper bench, led by Corey Maggette's 20 on 7-12 shooting, including back-to-back bingos that turned a 62-60 deficit into a 66-62 lead. Vlad Rad added seven and a team-leading 11 rebounds and Shaun Livingston eight and six assists, affording Cassell the sort of extended rest that will inure to the team's benefit in April and May.

Now 39-26 (.600) and thirteen games over .500 for the first time in three decades, the Clips complete a road back-to-back tonight against the slumping Hornets. Byron Scott's squad will seek to avenge their historic 89-67 loss Mar. 1 in L.A. and to gain ground on the Kings and Lakers for playoff position in the West. The fans at New Orleans Arena could never duplicate the Arco-like atmosphere of the Ford Center in Oklahoma City, but the Hornets' survival instinct should provide all the adrenaline they need to challenge the Clips.

Click on Clipper Talk and join the discussion. -- Jordan


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