SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—Carlos Boozer looked like an All-Star again.
Boozer had his best game since returning after missing three months with a knee injury, scoring 20 points and pulling down 17 rebounds as the Utah Jazz increased their winning streak to nine with a 101-94 win over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday.
In his four previous games, two-time All-Star Boozer had been averaging 7.5 points and 5.8 rebounds.
“My knee’s getting better and better. Every day is an improvement. I’m trying to stay encouraged about it. I still can’t jump high, but that’s OK,” said Boozer, who had surgery on his left knee in January. “I’m going to continue to take what they give me and figure out a way to be effective.”
Deron Williams scored 10 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, including a 20-foot jumper with 21 seconds left after Houston got within three points. Williams also had 14 assists for the surging Jazz, who went 17-for-17 from the foul line and won their 10th straight home game.
Yao also had five blocks despite playing with foul trouble most of the night. Two of his fouls were offensive, including the final one when Utah’s Ronnie Brewer went crashing to the floor after a collision with Yao in the lane. Brewer pumped his fist before getting up and Yao angrily made his way to the bench.
“Every time a defender player is on the ground, even if he just wants to sit down and have a rest, it’s my offensive foul,” Yao said. “That’s unfair.”
“I guess I don’t need to worry about (a) flopper next game. I don’t think Shaq’s that type of player,” Yao said.
The Jazz improved to 2-1 against Houston and also moved within half a game of the Rockets in the tight Western Conference standings.
“We really needed this game because they’re right there ahead of us,” Williams said.
Utah and Houston have met in the first round of the playoffs the last two years and the Jazz won both. The final meeting of the regular season is March 24 in Utah, where the Jazz have won 10 straight.
Boozer, who missed 44 games before returning on Feb. 23, finished 8-for-17 from the floor and led the Jazz in a dominant rebounding performance. Utah had 45 rebounds to Houston’s 31 and outrebounded the Rockets 27-9 in the first half.
“I’ve been working my tail off trying to get myself back and today it paid off extra,” Boozer said.
Brewer had 19 points and Mehmet Okur finished with 16 points and eight rebounds. Okur also got Yao into foul trouble early and held him to seven rebounds.
“This is a tough team to play against,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “They’re so big and long, it’s tough to deal with them all night long.”
After turning over the ball 13 times in the first half, the Jazz protected the ball in the second half and held off the Rockets down the stretch.
Houston rallied from a 13-point deficit to tie it at 85 on a turnaround by Yao, but the Jazz responded with a 10-4 run and led the rest of the way. Boozer started the run with a 15-foot jumper and Brewer followed with two layups on fast breaks.
The Jazz led 95-89 when Artest kept the Rockets’ hopes alive by banking in a 3-pointer, but Williams answered with a jumper from 20 feet.
“I thought that was the shot that finally broke them,” Williams said.
Kyle Lowry scored 14 for Houston, making five free throws during a 10-2 run late in the third quarter that helped get the Rockets within 75-68 entering the fourth quarter. The Jazz had the Rockets on the verge of a shot clock violation late in the run, but Carl Landry grabbed an offensive rebound and banked it in just in time.
Notes:@ Boozer’s last double-double was Nov. 19 against Milwaukee, the game he was injured. … Houston led 26-22 after the first quarter and was up by as much as eight, but Utah went 11-for-20 in the second period and led 48-46 at halftime. … Kyle Korver tied it at 28 on a layup off a backward pass Andrei Kirilenko bounced between his own legs as Korver drove along the baseline, one of Kirilenko’s four assists.