HOUSTON — Despite their problems, the Clippers on Saturday night were better than the Houston Rockets minus Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming.
The Clippers held off the short-handed Rockets and ended a six-game losing streak in a 98-93 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 18,246 at the Toyota Center.
McGrady has been sidelined for seven games because of a back injury, and the Rockets lost the other half of their All-Star tandem when Yao suffered a broken bone on his right knee in a first-quarter collision with Tim Thomas. The Rockets expect the 7-foot-6, 310-pound center to be sidelined for at least six weeks.
Meanwhile, the Clippers continued to pursue a trade for an impact player, discussing a potential deal for Ron Artest of the Sacramento Kings, a high-ranking Clippers source said after the game.
Apparently, Artest, whom the Clippers tried to acquire last season from the Indiana Pacers, is eager to leave the Kings, and the Clippers want to send Corey Maggette to Sacramento for the versatile player. A Clippers official spoke with the Kings on Friday, and talks are expected to continue today.
Regardless of whether the Clippers get a boost from Artest, they were upbeat for a change Saturday after defeating a quality opponent on the road. McGrady and Yao would have made things more difficult, the Clippers said, but they finally did many things right together.
"We had guys playing together and sharing the ball, cutting and moving, and it was just great to see," said point guard Shaun Livingston, who had 10 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
"Even when Yao went out, it was like, 'We need this.' Would we rather have T-Mac and Yao in there together, play like we did and win? Yeah.
"But you've got to get it how you can in the NBA. It's cutthroat. If our guys were out, they would try to mop us up, so we did what we had to do." Especially after Friday's 32-point loss against the Dallas Mavericks in which the Clippers trailed by 43 points in the fourth quarter.
On Saturday, the Clippers (11-15) improved to 2-9 as a visiting team, in large part because they were strong on offense for the first time since, well, in a long time.
The Clippers had six players in double figures, and Thomas and Cuttino Mobley benefited most from sharp passing and unselfish play.
Thomas made four three-point shots and matched his season high with 21 points. Mobley shot three for three from beyond the arc and scored 18 points. Chris Kaman took advantage of Yao's absence in a solid 15-point, 11-rebound performance.
Houston (16-11) got 28 points from Shane Battier. Luther Head, who made five of the Rockets' 11 three-point baskets, scored 22 points and Rafer Alston had 21.
"That's what you can do when you share the basketball and play smart," Mobley said of the Clippers' improvement on offense. "Everybody feeds off each other and helps each other."
Of course, Yao's injury was a big factor.
With 6 minutes 17 seconds remaining in the opening quarter, Thomas drove into the lane and Yao leaped to block his shot. Yao, teammate Chuck Hayes and Thomas became entangled and fell, and Yao quickly grabbed his right knee and began screaming in pain.
Yao remained on the court for several minutes while Rockets medical personnel evaluated him. He declined to use a wheelchair and was helped off the court.
"Yao Ming is their focus, especially with McGrady out, but we can't worry about that," said Elton Brand, who scored 16 points. "We just needed to win the game."
KEYS TO THE GAME
The absence of Yao Ming. The Rockets' plans changed when the 7-foot-6, 310-pound center did not return after suffering a knee injury in the first quarter.
Ball movement. The Clippers made sharp passes and located open shooters. Tim Thomas and Cuttino Mobley did the rest.
Better defense. The Clippers were more aggressive at closing on shooters and stopping penetration into the lane.
— JASON REID
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