T-Mac finds Novak, who nails 3 to lock up Rockets' 8th straight win

HOUSTON (AP) -- The Houston Rockets enter the All-Star break with an eight-game winning streak thanks to a clutch shot by Steve Novak.

Novak hit a 3-pointer, his only field goal of the game, with two seconds left to lead the Rockets to an 89-87 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night.

Ron Artest had rallied the Kings back from an 18-point fourth quarter deficit and his off-balance jump shot gave them a 87-86 lead with 24 seconds left.

With Artest all over him, Tracy McGrady drove into the lane and then kicked the ball out to Novak for the winning shot and his only points of the game.

"I had to come in and make a shot and I did," Novak said. "It was fortunate that I did."

McGrady said he told coach Rick Adelman he needed to put Novak in because he would be open because of the double team on Yao Ming.

"I wanted to drive to the basket and I saw the play before it even happened," McGrady said. "I knew everyone was going to come in and I saw Novak on the perimeter and as confident as he is, he knocked down the shot."

Houston enters the All-Star break having won 17 of its last 20 games, marking the most successful 20-game span for the team since the 1996-97 season.

Artest led the Kings with 30 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter.

"It's tough losing that game when you know you should have pulled it out," Artest said. "We came back and it was a must win for us -- do or die -- and we lost and that hurts a lot."

Yao led the Rockets with 25 points and 14 rebounds and Rafer Alston scored a season-high 23 points.

Sacramento trailed by 18 points at the end of the third quarter, but used a 15-1 run capped by a 3-pointer by Brad Miller to get within 80-76 midway through the fourth quarter.

"Not much happened in the fourth quarter except for the last shot," Adelman said. "We just got so stagnant and missed so many shots."

Yao scored five points for Houston over the next two minutes but Artest cut Houston's lead to 86-83 with about two minutes left.

Artest missed two free throws before hitting a long jumper to get the Kings within one with 58 seconds left.

His jump shot in the lane after a steal by Justin Williams gave them an 87-86 lead with 24 seconds left, their first since leading 8-7.

McGrady had scored 40 points in each of the last two meetings with the Kings, but was 3-of-12 for just 10 points on Wednesday.

"Ron Artest played against a great basketball player [McGrady] and did an excellent defensive job on him," Kings coach Reggie Theus said. "That's one of the reasons that he is one of the 10 best players in this league, because he effects both the offensive and defensive ends."

Sacramento, which has lost three straight, got 14 points from Mike Bibby and 13 from Miller.

McGrady said the winning streak has brought a new attitude to his team.

"We're going into this break with a little swagger," he said. "Hopefully we can come back the same way."

Houston led by as many as 19 in the second quarter, but poor shooting in the back end of that quarter allowed the Kings to cut the lead to 13 at halftime. Sacramento opened the second half with a 10-4 run to cut Houston's lead to single digits for the first time since late in the first quarter.

The Rockets led 52-39 at half.

They wouldn't get any closer in the third though as Shane Battier's 3-pointer stretched Houston's lead back to 59-49. A trio of turnovers and several missed shots kept the Kings' offense sluggish after that in the third and two consecutive 3s by Alston gave Houston a 75-56 lead late in the quarter.

The Rockets didn't score for an almost 2 1/2 minute span in the second quarter but maintained a comfortable lead since Sacramento managed just four points in that span. Houston's scoring drought was broken when Miller got a technical foul for complaining about the officiating and Yao made one of two free throws that pushed the lead to 50-33 less than four minutes before halftime.

The Rockets led 35-20 at the end of the first quarter, the most points they've scored in a quarter his season.

Game notes
Yao had three blocks on Wednesday to bring his career total to 759, moving him past Moses Malone for second most in team history. Hakeem Olajuwon is the team leader with 3,740 in his career. ... Houston has held each of its last six opponents to less than 90 points.