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49-32, 21-19 Away
53-28, 33-8 Home

Yao scores 22 in return; Rockets one win away from division title

HOUSTON -- The Houston Rockets knew the math before their game against New Orleans.

Win their final two regular-season games and they're Southwest Division champions. Two more victories would also give them a chance to grab the No. 2 seed for the Western Conference playoffs.

Houston made the first step look easy.

Yao Ming scored 22 points, Luis Scola grabbed 15 rebounds and the Rockets routed the Hornets 86-66 on Monday night in their regular-season home finale. Houston came in holding the No. 4 seed in the West, but with the same record as San Antonio and Portland, who both won later in the night.

If the Rockets win their last game in Dallas on Wednesday, they'll secure their first division championship since 1993-94. But in the jumbled Western Conference, Houston could also slip to fifth place -- and lose home-court advantage in the first round -- with a loss to the Mavericks.

"We just need to keep winning because nothing is secure right now," said Yao, who showed no ill effects from a sore right foot that kept him out of Houston's last game. "We still need to win one more game because there is the possibility of us finishing with the second seed, which would be even better."

The Rockets have won five in a row, an impressive stretch run that's assured them of nothing worse than the No. 5 seed.

"Right now, we have a chance for everything," Scola said.

The Hornets, meanwhile, blew a chance to clinch the No. 6 seed in the West. Dallas beat Minnesota on Monday night to equal New Orleans' 49-32 record -- but the Hornets hold the tiebreaker.

Still, coach Byron Scott was puzzled by his team's lackluster effort in Houston.

"It is very disappointing," Scott said. "I think most of our guys in that locker room think that it's like a light switch, that you can just turn on when the playoffs start. It's not going to happen, it's just not."

David West had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Chris Paul had nine points and seven assists for the Hornets, who've lost five of their last seven. Scott is worried about his team's inconsistency heading into its regular-season finale Wednesday in San Antonio.

"We don't play hard every game and that is really a problem," he said.

While the standings remain unresolved, the outcome of Monday's game was decided early, thanks to the Hornets' offensive ineptitude.

The Hornets shot 35 percent (28-of-81) from the field and their 66 points were a season low. Houston also held a 46-37 rebounding edge.

Paul assisted on three straight possessions, then hit an off-balance shot on the baseline to put the Hornets up 22-17 late in the first quarter. Von Wafer swished a shot from the wing just before the buzzer to cut Houston's deficit to three.

With Paul on the bench, James Posey scored seven points early in the second quarter to keep New Orleans in front. Houston reserves Carl Landry and Kyle Lowry then scored on consecutive drives to trigger an 18-0 spurt.

Paul returned with 5:41 left in the half, but the Rockets tacked seven more points on the lead over the next three minutes to go up 43-31. The Hornets missed 10 straight shots before West's jumper from the free-throw line ended their 6 1/2-minute scoring drought.

The Rockets led 47-35 at the break after New Orleans went 5-for-19 from the field in the second quarter.

The Hornets missed their first six shots in the third quarter and Houston opened with a 6-0 burst to lead 53-35. Shane Battier tipped in Yao's miss and also swatted a breakaway layup attempt by Rasual Butler, prompting one of the loudest cheers of the night.

"We got smashed," Paul said. "It was embarrassing. They beat us in just about every way possible."

Ron Artest drove for a one-handed dunk later in the third quarter, then smiled as he raised his arms and smacked hands with fans along the baseline. New Orleans mustered a season-low 11 points in the quarter and trailed 67-46.

Paul sat out the rest of the night and the Rockets stretched the lead to 26. Yao came out with 6:16 left after playing 32 minutes and the Rockets coasted to their sixth straight home win and 33rd of the season.

Game notes
The Rockets went 13-for-13 from the free-throw line. ... Hornets C Tyson Chandler, out since March 16 with inflammation in his left ankle, was inactive, but coach Byron Scott was hoping to play him 20-25 minutes in Wednesday's regular-season finale in San Antonio. "Just to get him out there and get his timing a little bit," Scott said. ...