Rockets down Blazers to take over fourth place in West

HOUSTON -- The Houston Rockets got a validating victory on Tuesday night to continue climbing up the Western Conference standings.

Ron Artest scored 21 points, Aaron Brooks had 20 and the Rockets moved past Portland in the West with a 98-94 victory over the Trail Blazers.

Luis Scola had 15 points and 11 rebounds -- his fifth straight double-double -- for the Rockets, who came in trailing Portland by a half-game for fourth place in the conference.

The Rockets have won eight straight home games and five straight overall, both season-best streaks. They've mostly beaten teams with losing records lately, and felt a little more satisfied after this victory.

"We're going in the right direction," Scola said. "We have a lot of space to improve and things will get better, but this is definitely the way we want to play."

Brandon Roy scored 24 and LaMarcus Aldridge added 21 points with eight rebounds for the Blazers, who've lost nine of their last 10 games in Houston.

The Rockets seemed to have the victory in hand after Kyle Lowry's layup with 8:31 left put Houston up 89-75.

But Aldridge converted a three-point play and added a jumper to start a 13-3 run as the Rockets went cold. Yao Ming gave away his fifth turnover and Travis Outlaw's 3-pointer and driving layup cut Houston's lead to 91-88.

The Rockets missed six straight shots, but the Blazers couldn't take full advantage. Steve Blake missed a 3-pointer, Outlaw couldn't score on a drive and Aldridge missed a shot from the wing in the final two minutes.

Roy scored inside with 22 seconds left to cut the Rockets' lead to 92-90. Brooks was fouled on an inbounds pass and sank two free throws to push the lead back to four.

Roy drove for a dunk with 17 seconds left, but Artest hit two more free throws to finally put away the game. Artest was encouraged by another solid overall performance by the Rockets, despite the near-collapse at the end.

"Our record doesn't show it, but we're starting to show the type of team we are," he said. "We're starting to come together."

The Blazers had a three-game winning streak snapped and have lost four straight on the road.

"We need to learn to have the same intensity and focus and learn how to play for 48 minutes on the road," said Portland coach Nate McMillan. "We dug too big of a hole and we couldn't get out."

The Blazers built an early lead after Yao missed a dunk and a point-blank layup, part of Houston's 1-for-6 start. Roy scored nine points in the first seven minutes, prompting Houston coach Rick Adelman to have Artest guard Portland's leading scorer instead of Shane Battier.

Roy missed three straight shots, and the Rockets mounted a 23-6 spurt. Rudy Fernandez missed a wide-open layup as time expired in the first quarter and Houston led 31-21.

The Rockets stretched their lead to 18 in the second quarter, relying mostly on their bench. Backup guard Von Wafer sank a 3-pointer and jumper from the top of the key, Chuck Hayes spun free for two layups and Houston led 49-31.

Roy and Aldridge together shot 7-for-22 from the field in the first half and the Rockets were up 60-43 at the break. The Blazers have won eight games this season when they trail after three quarters. But it's the early part of games where they need to improve, Roy said.

"We don't seem to fully understand the intensity we need to start the game with," Roy said. "We have to play better in the first half."

Nicolas Batum sank two 3-pointers to trim the deficit to 11 early in the second half. Yao left the game with a cut over his right eye with 7:34 left in the third quarter, and Batum dunked two minutes later to get Portland within nine.

Yao got two stitches and returned late in the third quarter with the Rockets leading 74-64. Batum scored 14 in the third quarter to help the Blazers close the gap to nine heading to the fourth.

Game notes
Portland C Greg Oden sat out again with a left knee injury, and McMillan said Oden would also skip Wednesday's game in San Antonio. ... As scheduled, Rockets G Tracy McGrady had season-ending microfracture surgery on his left knee in Chicago on Tuesday. "The surgery has been completed, and by all accounts, it was a success," McGrady wrote on his personal Web site. The seven-time All-Star faces 6-12 months of recovery time, said team doctor Tom Clanton. ... Rockets F Carl Landry missed his third straight game with a sprained right ankle.