Yao and Alston each scored 22 points, carrying the Rockets in the closing minutes of a 93-92 victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Thursday night that snapped a six-game losing streak.
“Nobody likes to lose,” Yao said. “Down the stretch with our record, we have to know we have something, any reason for the win.”
The Hornets erased a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit and took an 84-83 lead on David West’s right-handed fast-break jam, but Alston answered with buzzer-beating jumpers on back-to-back possession as Houston scored the next eight points.
“Those gave us confidence going on to win the game,” Yao said. “He made a couple of big shots.”
New Orleans’ Chris Paul hit a 3-pointer from the left wing with 3.6 seconds left and Rasual Butler took advantage of a stolen inbounds pass by West with another 3 at the buzzer to create the final one-point margin.
The Rockets picked up their first win in 14 games against Southwest Division foes this season. They were the last NBA team to win a divisional game.
“That means zero because it doesn’t matter who we win against, whether it is a division team or not,” Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. “We are happy any time we win.”
In the process, Houston dealt New Orleans’ playoff hopes a big blow. After snapping an eight-game losing streak Tuesday by beating the Los Angeles Clippers, the Hornets needed a win to tie idle Sacramento for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
“That’s always I think in everybody’s back of their mind,” said Hornets guard Kirk Snyder, who was 3-for-16. “We obviously want to be in the playoffs. We’re not just sitting here saying we don’t want to be in the playoffs. We’ve just got to find a way to use that as positive motivation.”
Juwan Howard had 16 points and 12 rebounds and Keith Bogans added 14 points for Houston, which is 3-19 this season without Tracy McGrady. The Rockets are the 11th place team in the West, 4 1/2 games behind Sacramento.
“You just got to start with a win,” Alston said. “That way the snowball effect can start going uphill instead of downhill.”
West had 14 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Hornets, who also got 13 points from Paul and 12 apiece from Butler and P.J. Brown.
“We’re still not confident in what we’re doing from game to game,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said. “I’m still not sure what I’m going to get from everybody. There’s certain guys that I know what I’m going to get, but there’s too many guys that I don’t.”
The Hornets finished the first half with a 19-5 run to take a 54-45 lead on two free throws from West, but then missed their first eight shots of the second half as the Rockets pulled back within two after four straight points by Yao and a 3-pointer by Luther Head.
Bogans then put Houston into the lead with a 3-pointer from the right wing, and the Rockets finished the third quarter on a 12-2 run to head into the final period with a 71-64 lead.
“We came out in the third quarter and acted like we were walking in the park,” Scott said. “Then as the game gets tight, we try to turn that light switch back on. Very rarely in this league are you going to be able to do that.”
After starting March by going 1-7 against teams with records above .500, the Hornets opened a stretch with five of their next six opponents against teams at or below .500. … New Orleans made all 17 of its free throws in the first half, then missed its only two attempts in the second half. … The Rockets are 17-17 on the road and 13-22 at home. … The Hornets are averaging 27.7 third-quarter points in their last eight wins and 19 in their last 10 losses. … New Orleans started last season 0-14 against Southwest Division foes before beating Memphis on March 26.