Rockets survive stagnant second half after starting strong against Bucks

HOUSTON -- The Houston Rockets hardly sounded like the victorious team after struggling past the Milwaukee Bucks 85-81 on Wednesday night.

Yao Ming had 22 points and 10 rebounds, and Luis Scola added 11 points and 10 boards, but the Rockets sputtered on offense during long stretches for the third straight home game.

Ron Artest had 15 points and reserve Carl Landry added 14 as the Rockets beat the Bucks for the eighth straight time, bouncing back from an embarrassing loss to Washington on Monday.

But Artest was disgusted with the way the Rockets played, and how they've played lately in losing three of their previous four.

"We've got to play better and that's it," Artest said. "There's so much of the game where we have to play better. To sum it up, that win was not even a win."

Imagine how the Bucks felt about it.

Michael Redd scored 20, Richard Jefferson had 16 and Luke Ridnour dished out 11 assists for the Bucks, who've lost nine consecutive games in Houston.

Milwaukee was outrebounded 40-34 and committed 17 turnovers -- six in the second quarter, when Houston stretched its early lead to 15.

"We were a step slow and we just had too many turnovers to overcome," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "We were sloppy with our offensive execution and it haunted us."

The Rockets' offense turned stagnant in the second half to let the Bucks get back in it.

Redd hit a turnaround jumper with 2:17 left to pull the Bucks within 78-77, and Tracy McGrady missed two free throws on Houston's next trip. McGrady scored only seven points on 3-for-10 shooting, but also gave out 10 assists.

"When we're up on a team like that, we have to realize that we can't give any team hope in this league," McGrady said. "You've just got to put 'em away."

On Saturday night, Houston led by as many as 16 against Utah, but the Jazz rallied in the fourth quarter. The Rockets won 120-115 in two overtimes before losing 89-87 to the lowly Wizards.

The Bucks had chances to steal this one, too.

Redd rimmed out a 3-point try near the 1-minute mark and Artest hit two free throws with 37 seconds left to push the Rockets' lead to three. Ridnour missed a 3-point attempt with 25 seconds left, 6-foot Aaron Brooks grabbed the rebound and tacked on two free throws to finally put the game out of reach for Houston.

The Rockets went 4-for-19 from 3-point range (21 percent) and 30-of-73 overall from the field (41 percent).

"I really am not excited about the win," said Yao, who went 9-for-18 from the field. "This keeps happening and happening since the Utah game, so I cannot be happy about this."

The Bucks trailed 27-22 after the first quarter and gave away six turnovers in the first seven minutes of the second. Andrew Bogut got his third foul pushing Yao with 3:16 left in the half and was replaced by Dan Gadzuric. Yao hit one free throw to put Houston up 45-30.

"We didn't start well and Houston got off to a hot start," said Bogut, who scored 11. "I had a bad game and Yao got the better of me."

Houston led 47-36 at the break after Milwaukee mustered only 14 points in the second quarter on 5-for-14 shooting. But the Rockets coughed up five turnovers in the first five minutes of the third quarter, and the Bucks mounted a 12-2 run to cut the deficit to 49-48.

Houston opened the final quarter with a 7-1 burst, highlighted by Landry's putback dunk with 9:05 left, to stretch the lead back to double digits. The Bucks responded with an 11-2 spurt to pull within two heading into the final four minutes.

Game notes
Charlie Bell went 3-for-4 from 3-point range and scored 15 off the bench from Milwaukee. ... Rockets F Shane Battier sat out with inflammation in his left foot, an injury that's bothered him for months. Battier will also skip the team's upcoming five-game road trip. ... The Rockets re-signed Dikembe Mutombo on Wednesday. The 42-year-old center will travel with the team on the road trip, but coach Rick Adelman set no timetable for when Mutombo would see his first action. "It'll be good to have him around," Adelman said. "He adds such quality to our locker room. At this point in time, we really need that."