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Hakeem, Rockets Pound Grizzlies

The Houston Rockets are winning during a soft spot in their schedule without getting any knockouts.

Hakeem Olajuwon scored 31 points, including nine in the crucial closing minutes, as the Rockets escaped a late charge by the Vancouver Grizzlies for a 102-91 victory Thursday night.

The Rockets extended Vancouver's losing streak to 10 games, but they almost blew it in the fourth quarter to a team that has lost 13 of its last 14 games. The Rockets struggled before beating Denver 84-75 on Tuesday.

"We won, but I don't know if we played great," Charles Barkley said. "I can't complain about a win. You don't get an asterisk by the `W' or bonus points for beating a team by a lot of points, so it as a win."

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  • The Rockets were up by 71-59 with 1:59 to go in the third period and seemingly had the game under control.

    But the Grizzlies, who have lost all seven games they've played in Compaq Center, went on a 12-4 roll that spilled into the fourth quarter and cut Houston's lead to four with 9:11 left.

    "We just have to keep working to find a knockout punch," Olajuwon said. "We have to realize when we have a team down, you've got to put them away."

    The Rockets never lost the lead, but with the aid of rookie Mike Bibby who had 10 of his career-high 26 points in the fourth quarter the Grizzlies cut Houston's lead to 86-83 with 3:06 to play.

    Olajuwon had nine points in the final 4:15 and finished with 11 rebounds. Shareef Abdur-Rahim led the Grizzlies with 27 points and Charles Barkley added 24 points for Houston and 16 rebounds.

    Rookie Cuttino Mobley had 17 points and a career-high eight assists and wasn't worried about the Grizzlies' charge.

    "That doesn't bother me," Mobley said. "I think we should have won by a little more, but at least we won by double figures. As long as we're mentlly strong toward the end of the game it's not a problem."

    "It is a win, but I think we have to be a little more aggressive on defense."

    Before the game, the teams swapped guards, with Rockets' former No. 1 draft choice Rodrick Rhodes going to the Grizzlies in exchange for former Rockets guard Sam Mack.

    Mack got the same No. 7 back he wore with the Grizzlies and suited up, but Rhodes was not in uniform. Mack didn't play.

    Olajuwon had 17 first-half points, including 11 in the first period, and was 8-for-8 from the field. He hit his only free throw in the first half. The Rockets led 54-47 at the half.

    The Rockets beat Vancouver for the third time this season.

    "We played much better against this team this game vs. the previous matchup," Vancouver coach Brian Hill said. "We had much stronger defense. We had two turnovers in the first half and 12 times in the second half."

    "It's hard to play a team like the Houston Rockets when you have 12 turnovers."

    Notes: Barkley got four assists and needs just one to reach 4,000 assists and join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history to have 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists. ... The Grizzlies are 0-14 in games they trail at the end of the first quarter. ... In addition to the trade, the Grizzlies placed Tony Massenburg on the injured list with a sprained left wrist and activated J.R. Henderson.

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