Rafer Alston scored 23 points while Yao Ming and Luis Scola added 19 each for Houston while Von Wafer filled in admirably for Tracy McGrady as the Rockets beat Utah 108-99 on Wednesday.
Wafer, taking the place of the injured Houston star, scored 16 of his 21 points in the first half and helped beat back a Jazz rally to secure their sixth victory in seven games and third in a row.
The Jazz pulled within 91-87 with 2:49 to play before Wafer drilled a 3-pointer from the right corner to keep Utah at bay.
"He has a lot of energy," Yao said. "We get great help from him on the offensive side. He challenges the basket and makes those open threes. He's making his own plays right now. He played consistently for 10 games."
Yao got in foul trouble in the second half and the Jazz rallied from a 55-42 half-time deficit. Deron Williams scored 22 of his 32 points in the second half.
But Yao made a free throw after a technical foul on Paul Millsap and Alston added back-to-back 3-pointers, stretching the Rockets' lead to 70-54 in the third quarter.
"Utah has a very strong team, very disciplined," Yao said. "Playoffs are another story. The game is different, the contact is different. It's still the middle of the season."
With McGrady and Ron Artest injured, the Rockets have hung together thanks in large part to Wafer's play and the stalwart leadership of Chinese star center Yao.
"We'll be in even better shape when those two guys come back," Yao said. "They will carry us in March and April and in the playoffs."
Cavaliers 104, Blazers 98
At Portland, Oregon, LeBron James had 34 points and 14 assists as the Cleveland Cavaliers held off the Portland Trail Blazers for a 104-98 victory on Wednesday.
Mo Williams added a season-high 33 points, including a career-high six 3-pointers for the Cavaliers. Cleveland made 11 of 19 3-point attempts.
Brandon Roy had 23 points for Portland, and LaMarcus Aldridge finished with 21.
Cleveland, which led by as many as 11 points in the first half, took a 68-59 lead when James hit two consecutive 3-pointers in the third quarter.
Lakers 108, Clippers 97
At Los Angeles, Andrew Bynum scored a career-high 42 points and Kobe Bryant had his second triple-double in three games as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Clippers.
Bynum became the first Lakers player to reach 40 points other than Bryant since Shaquille O'Neal scored 48 against Boston on March 21, 2003.
The 21-year-old center shot 17-of-24 from the floor and 8-of-11 from the foul line, and pulled down 15 rebounds.
Bryant, playing in pain two days after dislocating his right ring finger, added 18 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists for his 16th career triple-double. He hadn't had a triple-double since April 1, 2005, before accomplishing the feat last Friday night in a 109-103 loss to Orlando.
Pistons 95, Raptors 76
At Auburn Hills, Michigan, Tayshaun Prince scored 12 of his 25 points in the third quarter to help Detroit beat Toronto.
The Pistons used Richard Hamilton as a reserve after the All-Star shooting guard started his first 611 games, including the playoffs, in his seven seasons with the team.
Chris Bosh had 19 points for the Raptors, who have lost seven straight.
Rodney Stuckey scored 17 points and Jason Maxiell had season highs in points (16) and rebounds (11) for Detroit. Allen Iverson scored 11 and reserve Antonio McDyess had 10 points and eight rebounds.
Celtics 98, Heat 83
At Miami, Eddie House scored 20 points in the second quarter, finishing with 25 as Boston downed Miami to extend its winning streak to six games.
Ray Allen scored a game-high 27 for the Celtics, who were a season-high 15-for-25 from 3-point range. It matched the most 3s ever allowed by the Heat in their 21 seasons. Kevin Garnett had 16 points and 13 rebounds, and Paul Pierce added 14 points for Boston.
Dwyane Wade finished with 25 points, Daequan Cook scored 20 and Michael Beasley added 17 points and 11 rebounds for Miami.
(Agencies via China Daily January 23, 2009)