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Rockets advance past first round with win over Blazers

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The Sports Network
5/1/2009 2:14:21 AM
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Houston, TX (Sports Network) - Ron Artest scored 27 points and the Houston Rockets broke a first-round hex by throttling Portland, 92-76, to finish their Western Conference quarterfinal series in six games.

Yao Ming totaled 17 points and 10 rebounds for the fifth-seeded Rockets, who won their first playoff set since 1997, ending a string of six straight first-round exits with the 4-2 series win.

The top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers await in the conference semifinals, starting Monday at 10:30 p.m. (et). The Lakers, led by perennial All-Star Kobe Bryant, swept the Rockets in four games this season.

"Off the court Kobe is a good friend of mine, but when we're on the court we absolutely don't like each other," said Artest. "I expect him to try and kill me and he expects the same thing."

The Rockets also accomplished the feat without standout swingman Tracy McGrady, who is out due to microfracture surgery on his knee. McGrady has never won a first-round series in his career.

Before Thursday, Houston hadn't won a playoff series since beating Seattle in seven games in the conference semis in 1997. The Rockets swept Minnesota in the first round that year.

Aaron Brooks ended with 13 points for the Rockets, who used a big first-half run to take control.

"We did a great job defensively helping each other out, trying to make every shot for them difficult," said Brooks. "At the beginning of the game, they were hitting. We just needed to buckle down and play our game. Ron definitely had a great game all-around, holding Brandon Roy on defense and scoring when we needed it most."

LaMarcus Aldridge scored 26 and Roy chipped in 22 for the Trail Blazers, who were in the playoffs for the first time since 2003. This was Portland's fourth straight first-round defeat, as the Blazers last won a series in 2000.

"It just felt like we were going to play on," said Roy. "No one felt we were going to lose tonight, but there was a lot of silence. We've had a great year, but we felt there was more we could have done this season."

Aldridge's bucket gave the Blazers a 19-18 edge with 1 1/2 minutes left in the opening quarter, but Artest and Yao combined for three foul shots to end the period and Houston started the second on a 13-2 spurt. Carl Landry's basket capped the run for a 34-21 lead.

Aldridge picked up his third foul shot 6:03 left in the half, hampering Portland's efforts.

"This game was a disappointment, but we can't let it diminish what we did this season," said Portland forward Rudy Fernandez. "Houston was really great defensively, but when LaMarcus went out in the second quarter we couldn't get anything else."

The Rockets maintained the double-digit lead all the way through halftime, holding a 52-37 cushion at the break.

Yao and Artest dominated the early moments of the third and a Brooks three- pointer with just under four minutes left provided a 71-52 margin. It was 74-56 going to the fourth.

A pair of foul shots from Aldridge cut it to 76-63, but Yao hit a layup and Brooks followed with a three-pointer, providing the 18-point difference midway through the stanza.

"You have to let the young fellows understand how we finished that game is how we need to start," said Artest. "Because it could be a lot of fun when we get to LA."

Game Notes:

Artest was 11-of-21 from the field, including 3-of-11 from beyond the arc...Houston had only eight turnovers...Houston's Shane Battier had seven points and tied a playoff career-high with nine rebounds...The Rockets, who won all their home games during the series, have beaten the Blazers in 13 of the last 14 tries at the Toyota Center.

Ron Artest  (Photo: Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
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