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NBA Game Summary - Minnesota at Houston

(Wednesday, March 26th)

Final Score: Houston 97, Minnesota 86

Houston, TX (Sports Network) - Tracy McGrady poured in 23 points, pulled down 11 rebounds and dished out nine assists, finishing just shy of a triple- double, as the Houston Rockets held off the Minnesota Timberwolves, 97-86, to keep pace in the Western Conference playoff race.

Luis Scola scored 18 points and reeled in a career-high 18 rebounds for the Rockets, who remained one game behind New Orleans for the top spot in the Southwest Division after the Hornets edged out Cleveland, 100-99, on Wednesday, and stuck in a deadlock with San Antonio for the third seed in the West. The Spurs downed the LA Clippers, 97-88, on Wednesday. With the Lakers' loss to Charlotte on Wednesday night, both the Rockets and Spurs moved into a tie with Los Angeles for the second-best record in the conference.

"Right now, every game is important," said Scola. "You win one game then you go up to the two spot. You lose one and you go back down to seven. That's the way it is and that's the way it's going to be from now on until the season ends. We have to be ready, we have to play hard and we have to win as many games as we can, because if we don't, then we're going down."

Rafer Alston added 12 points for Houston, which has triumphed in back-to-back outings and three of the last six since its remarkable 22-game win streak was erased. Carl Landry chipped in with 11 points, while Shane Battier ended with eight points, eight boards and three assists.

"It was a tough game," stated Rockets head coach Rick Adelman. "(The Timberwolves) did a good job. ... It was definitely a lot tougher than we wanted, but you have to give Minnesota credit -- they kept hanging in there."

Al Jefferson tallied 21 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and swatted five shots for Minnesota, which entered having won three of its last four games. Ryan Gomes gave 17 points and nine boards, Rashad McCants contributed 16 points and five boards, and Kirk Snyder provided 12 points, six rebounds and six assists.

"There was a game in Seattle where Coach took me out because of my defense, and I don't like sitting on the bench," explained Jefferson. "I have been working on my defense and my shot-blocking comes along with it. I'm trying to work hard and do the things the coaches want. ... (But) we turned the ball over too much, and Houston is one of the best defensive teams in the NBA."

The Rockets swept the three-game season series with the T'Wolves, and have captured four straight meetings overall. At the Toyota Center, Minnesota has dropped four in a row after a four-game win streak.

The Timberwolves stormed out of the gate in the fourth quarter with a 10-3 surge that closed the gap to two points. McCants highlighted the barrage with eight points, and his pull-up jumper with 9:30 to go put Minnesota hot on Houston's heels, 72-70.

The Rockets responded with a 14-4 flurry that deflated the T'Wolves and put the game away. The run featured 10 points and three rebounds by McGrady, whose jumper with 4:22 left in the tilt gave Houston an insurmountable 86-74 advantage.

Down the stretch, Minnesota did not manage to shrink the margin to anything less than seven points.

"They back-doored us on layups when we got close in the fourth quarter and that was pretty much the difference," commented Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman. "We fought and played hard, but consistently we needed to play the right way and we didn't. ... We need to learn to play for a full 48 minutes."

The teams traded blows back-and-forth through the first frame, with Houston opening a 24-23 lead heading into the second stanza.

Houston broke open a deadlock by ripping off an 11-3 run. Bobby Jackson hit a layup at the 5:56 mark to cap the burst, and the Rockets launched ahead, 39-31.

Minnesota trimmed the deficit to 46-42 with the squads headed to the locker rooms for halftime.

After the intermission, the Rockets used a 7-0 spurt to build a double-digit advantage. Scola accounted for five points in the streak, and McGrady connected on a pair at the charity stripe to put Houston on top, 60-50, with 6:24 remaining.

At the conclusion of the third period, the Rockets had a 69-60 cushion.

Game Notes

Houston improved to 49-23 overall, while Minnesota slipped to 18-52...The Rockets climbed to 28-10 as the host, but embark on a five-game road trip to visit San Antonio, Sacramento, Portland, Seattle and the LA Clippers...The Timberwolves, who have dropped three straight as the visitor, are a dismal 5-29 away from home this season. They travel to San Antonio on Friday.

03/27 01:15:05 ET

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