The best race of the season has been in the Midwest Division between San Antonio and Utah. And surging Houston isn't out of it.
The Rockets, who learned to win without injured Akeem Olajuwon, have found a new use for their center after he was sidelined for 26 games because of an eye injury.
The pressure has always been on Olajuwon. Not anymore. Olajuwon is playing the sixth-man role, and doing it rather well, too.
Olajuwon, relishing his new job, came off the bench to score 17 points in 23 minutes Saturday night at Houston to help the Rockets rout the Philadelphia 76ers, 97-80.
A tight defense shut down Charles Barkley and Olajuwon scored nine consecutive points early in the fourth quarter to break it open. Barkley, two for nine, had only 11 points in 30 minutes.
The Rockets have won 16 of their past 20 games, winning four in a row since Olajuwon started coming off the bench.
They are four games behind the Spurs, who lead by percentage points over Utah.
"Akeem will be ready to start soon," Coach Don Chaney said. "Right now, he's great in relief."
San Antonio 112, Seattle 99--David Robinson is out of his brief slump and he has brought the Spurs back into first place.
Robinson had 30 points, 12 in the third quarter when the Spurs pulled away. He also had 10 rebounds.
Former Clipper Benoit Benjamin was no match for the Spurs' center. Benjamin played 17 minutes and had eight points.
The Jazz are 4-2 on a trip that began March 1 against Detroit.
Malone scored 20 points during the third quarter as the Jazz cut an 11-point lead to four. He also had 18 rebounds and blocked three shots.
At Indianapolis, Joe Dumars provided the clutch basket. Dumars, now the key man with Isiah Thomas sidelined for the season, sank a baseline jumper with slightly more than two minutes remaining to win the game.
Charlotte 107, Milwaukee 98--The Bucks were the last NBA team to lose at home, winning their first 16. But on this night they couldn't even beat a slumping expansion team in Milwaukee.
The Hornets had lost four in a row and had won only two of their previous 23 road games. But Johnny Newman scored eight of his 27 points during a 13-4 run in the last 3:41.