Rockets 106, Bucks 87
HOUSTON (AP)—For a team that had just clinched a playoff spot with its sixth straight home victory, the Houston Rockets didn’t seem very happy.
Yao Ming scored 22, but shook his head as he talked about his performance.
“I was just not so good in this game,” said Yao, who missed 13 of 22 shots and coughed up five turnovers.
And Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy? He still seemed to be fuming about Sunday night’s loss in Oklahoma City and didn’t see much improvement one game later.
“We’re just not playing well these last two games,” Van Gundy said.
Juwan Howard added 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Rockets, who are 9-3 since Yao returned from a broken leg. Houston got away with a so-so game from its All-Star big man in this one.
Yao grabbed only seven rebounds, two below his average, and was out of position several times on defense when the Bucks ran pick-and-roll plays.
“I do not feel good about this,” he said. “I am not at the playoff level yet.”
The Rockets are 6-0 at the Toyota Center since Yao returned from the leg injury that sidelined him for 32 games. He averaged 27 points in his first five, but his shooting struggles carried over from the previous night in Oklahoma City — he missed 15 of his last 18 shots against the Hornets, then started 0-for-5 against Milwaukee.
The rest of Yao’s game worries Van Gundy more than his recent shooting.
“I’m concerned with the rebounding, or the lack thereof,” Van Gundy said. “The pick-and-roll defense, I thought we were doing better with that. Now, these last two games, it’s not been very good.
“I’m not concerned with him making or missing,” Van Gundy said. “I’m concerned with what precedes the making and the missing.”
Even when their offense isn’t clicking, the Rockets can usually rely on their defense and that’s what they did against Milwaukee.
The Rockets lead the league in field-goal percentage defense and shut down the Bucks in the third quarter to build a 23-point lead. Milwaukee trailed by eight points at halftime, then missed 15 of its first 19 shots after the break.
“Defense is key in the playoffs and Houston is an outstanding defensive team,” Milwaukee coach Larry Krystkowiak said.
Milwaukee lost for the seventh time in 10 games, shooting 40.5 percent (32 of 79) against Houston’s second-ranked scoring defense. The Bucks made five 3-pointers in the first half and only one in the second.
“There were shots I took that I thought weren’t going in and they went in and there were others I shot that were going in and they came out,” said Bell, who hit five of the Bucks’ six 3-pointers. “That’s just the way that shooting goes.”
McGrady sank a 3-pointer to trigger a 12-3 Houston run that ended the first quarter. Yao finished the spurt with a quick turnaround from the baseline to put the Rockets up 33-20.
The Rockets stayed safely ahead until missing eight of their last 10 shots of the second quarter. Houston led 53-45 at the break.
Houston took control again by holding the Bucks to one field goal during a 9-minute span of the third quarter. Bell scored on a reverse layup with 6.2 seconds left in the quarter to end the drought, but it only cut Houston’s lead to 81-60.
Luther Head swished a 3-pointer from the corner with 4:17 left to put the Rockets up 100-80. Houston improved to 18-1 when it reaches 100 points at home this season.
“It was a solid game. It wasn’t spectacular,” Houston forward Shane Battier said. “We didn’t make the plays we had to, but, hey, this is the NBA. Any time you win, you take it.”
Rockets F Chuck Hayes collided with Redd in the first quarter and left the game with a strained left shoulder. He did not return. … Rockets C Dikembe Mutombo missed his second straight game with a sore left knee. … G Mo Williams, the Bucks’ second-leading scorer, sat out with an upper respiratory infection. Earl Boykins, playing his second game since returning from a right thumb strain, started for Williams. … The Rockets finished 24-6 against the Eastern Conference this season, matching their best record since 2003-04.