Houston (36-32) at Sacramento (49-21)

Fair Currently: Sacramento, CA
Temp: 64° F
  • Game info: 9:00 pm EST Sun Mar 23, 2003
  • TV: KMAX
Preview | Box Score | Recap

Fighting for their playoff lives each and every game, the Houston Rockets need Steve Francis to carry them down the stretch.

Just ask Yao Ming.

“He’s our leader and we need him to lead,” the rookie center said of Francis. “If he falls apart, it can cause the whole team to fall apart. Everyone can see that.”

The Rockets will need Francis to be at his best when they visit Arco Arena to take on the Pacific Division-leading Sacramento Kings.

Yao spoke about Francis’ leadership skills following Friday’s 117-107 victory at Golden State—the third leg of a crucial five-game road trip for the Rockets.

The versatile guard finished with 13 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds as Houston snapped a two-game losing streak and moved into a tie with Phoenix for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Suns then lost to Dallas on Saturday, slipping one-half game behind the Rockets.

Francis grew frustrated late in Friday’s game as he felt he was being fouled by the Warriors, but not receiving the calls from the officials. However, Yao quickly came to his teammate’s aid, reminding him to maintain his composure.

“He told me to chill out,” Francis said. “Yao showed me he’s maturing. My big man took care of me.”

Francis has also taken on a more prominent leadership role with Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich missing the trip after undergoing a bladder biopsy last weekend. Assistant Larry Smith has been filling in for the last three games.

The Rockets, who have won five of their last seven games, didn’t fare well in their first visit to Arco, suffering a 103-84 setback on Dec. 1. However, Houston won the two following matchups at the Compaq Center, snapping a nine-game losing streak in the series.

The Kings won their third straight and got themselves some breathing room atop the Pacific with Saturday’s 113-104 victory at second-place Portland.

Peja Stojakovic scored 30 points and Chris Webber added 25 points and 15 rebounds as the Kings moved 4 1/2 games in front of the Trail Blazers.

The Kings, who are 15-4 since the All-Star break, boast the league’s best home record, and have won 10 of their last 11 at Arco.

STANDINGS: Rockets - 5th place, 15 GB, Midwest Division. Kings - 1st place, Pacific Division.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Rockets - F Eddie Griffin, F James Posey, C Yao, G Cuttino Mobley, G Francis. Kings - F Stojakovic, F Webber, C Vlade Divac, G Doug Christie, G Mike Bibby.

TEAM LEADERS: Rockets - Francis, 21.8 ppg and 6.2 apg; Yao, 8.3 rpg. Kings - Webber, 23.0 ppg and 10.7 rpg; Bibby, 5.3 apg.

SEASON SERIES: Rockets, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: Feb. 2; Rockets, 105-89. At Houston, Yao had one of his best all-around efforts of the season, collecting 18 points, 11 rebounds, four blocked shots and a season-high six assists to lead Houston. Stojakovic led Sacramento with 31 points.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rockets - 12-21 on the road. Kings - 30-6 at home.

INJURIES: Rockets - C Jason Collier (center); G Tito Maddox (viral infection). Kings - G Damon Jones (ankle); G Mateen Cleaves (quadriceps); G Brent Price (back).

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