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Rockets end Bulls' win streak at 3
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Staff

Houston Rockets' Tracy McGrady, right, tries to maintain control of the ball against Chicago Bulls' Kirk Hinrich, left, during the first half Tuesday.


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Published: 2/3/2009 10:23 PM | Updated: 2/3/2009 11:51 PM

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HOUSTON - The Bulls did some things well in an effort to extend their three-game road winning streak. But they could never get past that final hurdle, Houston's 7-foot-6 center Yao Ming.

Yao controlled the game on both ends, piling up 28 points and 4 blocked shots to lead the Rockets to a 107-100 victory over the Bulls on Tuesday night. Yao hit 9 of 12 field-goal attempts and all 10 of his free throws to lead Houston to its 11th win in the last 12 games in the series.

"They don't have any guy who can match up against us inside," Yao said. "I have the confidence. I just needed to get my game to work."

The Bulls (21-28) fell to 3-2 on this seven-game road trip. Tonight, they'll face New Orleans, most likely without all-star point guard Chris Paul because of a groin strain.

There were some strong individual performances by the Bulls against Houston. Luol Deng scored 12 of the team's 18 points in the first quarter and finished with a season-high 28. Ben Gordon added 20 points, while Tyrus Thomas piled up 14 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks.

The visitors were on their heels from the start, though, missing their first 9 field-goal attempts, including 2 that were blocked by Yao. Houston led 7-1 before Derrick Rose finally recorded the Bulls' first basket of the game, and the lead never changed hands.

The Bulls fell behind by 12 in the second quarter, then finished the first half strong and pulled within 48-45 by intermission.

A cold spell late in the third quarter allowed Houston to pull out to a 79-66 advantage at the end of three quarters. But with Yao on the bench, the Bulls chipped away at the lead and got as close as 82-77 with 8:11 remaining on a 3-pointer by Andres Nocioni.

But with Yao back on the floor, the Rockets pulled away again. He had a dunk and a 3-point play off an inbound pass, then Bulls center Joakim Noah (2 points, 1 rebound) fouled out on the next possession.

Coach Vinny Del Negro tried to cross up Houston with a small lineup, but Yao buried a hook shot over the 6-7 Nocioni to make it 88-77 with 6:43 left.

After the Rockets' lead grew to 16, the Bulls made a late comeback. A pair of 3-pointers by Gordon, followed by a steal and lay in from Rose brought the Bulls within 101-95 with 43 seconds left. But a driving lay-in by backup guard Aaron Brooks ended the suspense.

The Bulls made the decision to place Larry Hughes on the inactive list, beginning with Tuesday's game. He hasn't played since Jan. 12, when Kirk Hinrich returned from a two-month absence due to a thumb injury.

Management is optimistic a new home can be found for the veteran guard before the Feb. 19 trade deadline.