PORTLAND, Ore., March 20 (UPI) -- One night after losing in Seattle, the Houston Rockets fell flat in the fourth quarter Wednesday night and suffered a 94-83 loss to Portland.
The Rockets struggled to mount any offensive attack in the final quarter, making just three baskets in the first nine minutes. Houston could not get the ball to 7-5 rookie center Yao Ming, who took just one shot during that span.
"I think our biggest problem was not offensive, but more defensive," Yao said through an interpreter. "I don't care how many times I touch the ball."
While Yao may not care, the Rockets might be concerned that they did not find a way for him to get more touches on a night when he shot 5-of-9 from the field.
"We got to just trust each other and make the extra pass," said Houston assistant Larry Smith, who is guiding the team while Coach Rudy Tomjanovich recovers from the discovery of a cancerous tumor in his bladder. "So far, the last two ballgames, we have not done that. Until we do that, we will continue to struggle."
After shooting 53 percent (29-of-55) from the field through the first three quarters, the Rockets shot just 35 percent (6-of-17) down the stretch.
The Rockets, who had their five-game winning streak stopped in Seattle as they started a five-game West Coast trip, could not find a hot shooter to bail them out down the stretch.
"The last two games is like we are back to where we were in the beginning of the year, and where we were before those five games," said Maurice Taylor, who shot 1-of-3 in the fourth quarter. "We are not coming out with intensity, and teams are getting big leads on us. You can't live like that if you are trying to make the playoffs."
The Rockets remained tied with the Phoenix Suns for eighth place in the Western Conference at 35-32. The teams are just 2 1/2 games ahead of Golden State, which beat Seattle.
Steve Francis paced the Rockets with 17 points, while Taylor added 14 off the bench and Yao had 11.
Yao grabbed nine rebounds, but Houston was outrebounded, 37-28.