Stingy Rockets hold Cavs to lowest offensive output of season

HOUSTON -- LeBron James missed shots, complained to the refs and went an entire game without an assist for the first time in his career.

The Houston Rockets, meanwhile, showed they just might be contenders in the Western Conference with a 93-74 win over James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night.

Yao Ming scored 28 points and Ron Artest added 15 while harassing James on defense most of the night, leading the Rockets to their six consecutive win and ninth straight at home.

"It is a big win," said Yao, who hit 13 of 15 shots, despite Cleveland's constant double-teams. "We played against one of the best quality teams in this league. That is a really good test for us to see how far we can go."

James scored 21 points, but went 7-for-21 from the field with three turnovers. He left for good with 4:03 left, the only time in 493 NBA games (counting playoffs) he failed to record an assist.

"I'm not happy with that at all," James said. "I can't remember the last time I didn't have an assist, but as a team, we didn't move the ball at all. We'll just move on to the next game."

To make matters worse, forward Ben Wallace broke his right leg in the second quarter and will miss 4-6 weeks, the team said. Wallace is Cleveland's best interior defender, but went out after Yao accidentally kicked him.

"I'll definitely be back for the playoffs, I'm hoping to come back before then," Wallace said. "Realistically, I don't know how much I'd help the team, just coming back for the playoffs. It'd be tough, I'd be out of rhythm. I don't want to go out there and put my team at a disadvantage. It's more on me to catch up with them."

The Cavaliers had season-low point totals in the first (11) and third (10) quarters, and their 33.8 percent shooting (27-for-80) was also a season worst. Cleveland looked just as bad as it did in a 92-77 loss in Houston last season -- James had 32 in that one, but the Cavs shot 39.7 percent.

"We just can't seem to get into a good flow against the Houston team," James said. "A lot of credit has to go to them, they are a very good team. Offensively, we couldn't make a shot and we could never get in any rhythm."

Von Wafer scored 19 points and Luis Scola added 14 points and nine rebounds for the Rockets. Houston had 25 assists, its sixth straight game with 20 or more, and went 8-for-19 from 3-point range.

But the Rockets are more satisifed with their defense lately -- they've held their last six opponents to an average of 83.6 points.

"You may get into the second round [of the playoffs], but if you want to make a serious run and be a serious contender," said Wafer, "you've got to be able to continue to play defense. We are trying to come together as a unit."

Mo Williams also scored 21 for the Cavs, who had a five-game winning streak snapped.

Shadowed by the equally strong Artest from the opening tip, James missed three of his first four shots, part of Cleveland's 2-for-10 start. The Cavs double-teamed Yao whenever he touched the ball, but Scola scored eight early points to help Houston build a lead.

James was called for a charge late in the opening quarter when he spun into Shane Battier on a drive. The Cavs went 3-for-17 from the field in the quarter and trailed 19-11.

"They wanted us to take jump shots," said Cleveland coach Mike Brown. "They gave us the jump shot, but we just couldn't convert it."

James was resting on the bench at the start of the second period and Williams' 3-pointer from the top of the key ended a six-minute field goal drought for Cleveland.

Kyle Lowry scored on consecutive trips, then assisted on Yao's layup and Brent Barry's 3-pointer as Houston pushed the lead into double digits.

James kept missing shots in the second quarter and earned another offensive foul after bumping into Battier again. He sank a 3-pointer from the wing, his second basket in nine shots, before Artest drove for a left-handed dunk for a 37-29 Rockets lead.

The Cavs shot 31 percent (14-for-45) from the field in the first half and trailed 45-40 at the break.

The Rockets had assists on their first five baskets of the second half and Aaron Brooks' 3-pointer put Houston up 56-46. James tried a no-look, over-his-head pass to Anderson Varejao later in the period, but the ball sailed out of bounds.

"Couldn't get a rhythm, man," James said.

The Cavs shot 5-for-17 from the field and coughed up five turnovers in the third quarter to trail 68-50.

James took a rest and returned with 7:21 left in the game, but the Rockets never lost control. Yao blocked James on a dunk and Wafer swished a 3-pointer at the other end for an 85-68 lead.

Game notes
Cavs G Delonte West had four points and three turnovers after missing Tuesday's game against Memphis with soreness in his right wrist. On Wednesday, West visited a doctor in Houston who confirmed that his wrist fracture was healing properly. ... Rockets F Carl Landry missed his fourth straight game with a sprained right ankle. ... The Cavs are 18-4 against the West this season.