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Aging Rockets still have plenty left

PORTLAND -- Houston's Eddie Johnson may be 38 years old, but he's provingthere's still plenty of mileage left in his legs and shooting arm.

The 16-year veteran made the difference during a 1:28 stretch of thefourth quarter Friday night, scoring nine straight points in leading theRockets to a 98-89 win over the Portland Blazers.

Johnson, who finished with 20 points, scored the first nine points ofa 13-3 spurt by the Rockets, turning a one-point lead into a 94-83 advantagewith 2:52 left in the game. The Blazers could get no closer than seven pointsthe rest of the game.

They've got to commit to someone, Johnson said when askedabout his scoring run. Clyde (Drexler) was having a great game andyou've got to respect Charles (Barkley). So I'm going to be the beneficiaryof the good looks. That's what happened.

Still, the Rockets, who were led by Drexler's 24 points, couldn't pullaway from the Blazers until Johnson got hot.

With the Rockets leading 81-80, Johnson sank a free throw after an illegaldefense call against Portland, followed by a jumper, three free throws anda 24-foot shot with 4:30 left in the game.

Eddie Johnson is pretty amazing, Portland coach Mike Dunleavysaid. Anybody who watches cable ought to know by now how he can reallystroke it. They got on a roll and we just couldn't answer.

The Blazers were led by Isaiah Rider's 20 points. Brian Grant added 15points and 10 rebounds.

The Rockets won by being more energetic in the fourth quarter, thanksto a five-game rest between games while the Blazers returned home ThanksgivingDay after a five-game East Coast trip.

Drexler kept the Rockets ahead during most of the first three quarters,scoring 22 of his 24 points through three. The former Trail Blazer scoredHouston's first 10 points of the third quarter.

It's no big deal going off against my old team, Drexler said.The only guy I know who is still part of the team is Paul Allen andhe is the owner. So it's not like the same organization I played for. Butthe fans here have always been very classy. I appreciate the support.

The Blazers, who had trailed since early in the second quarter, finallycaught up at 78-78 when Stacey Augmon scored with 8:27 remaining. Neitherteam could score until Matt Bullard hit a 3-point shot to give Houston an81-78 lead with 6:30 to go and set up

Johnson's finish.

Houston's bench scored 23 points in the first half, led by Johnson'snine points and Rodrick Rhodes' seven.

Barkley played 10 minutes before scoring in his first game back aftermissing three with a strained groin. He finished with seven points and 13rebounds.

Portland's health continued to be an issue as reserve John Crotty wassidelined with a knee injury suffered Wednesday in Minnesota and JermaineO'Neal sat out with an injured shoulder. Guard Kenny Anderson was hobbledwith a thigh injury and made only one of nine field goal attempts in 27minutes.

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