HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Rockets are relying on a familiar formula to climb up the Western Conference standings.
"Moving it (the ball) and playing hard on defense," Ron Artest said. "That's our identity right now."
Artest scored 21 points, Aaron Brooks had 20 and the Rockets moved past Portland in the West with a 98-94 victory over the Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.
Houston has won eight straight home games and five straight overall, both season bests.
Not so coincidentally, the Rockets have had at least 20 assists in their last five games after getting 20 on Tuesday night. They held their previous four opponents under 90 points, and Portland didn't get to 90 until the final minute.
Luis Scola had 15 points and 11 rebounds — his fifth straight double-double — for Houston, which came in trailing Portland by a half-game for fourth place in the conference.
The Rockets have mostly beaten teams with losing records lately, and felt a little more satisfied after this victory.
"We're going in the right direction," Scola said. "We have a lot of space to improve and things will get better, but this is definitely the way we want to play."
Brandon Roy scored 24 and LaMarcus Aldridge added 21 points with eight rebounds for the Blazers, who've lost nine of their last 10 games in Houston.
The Rockets seemed to have the victory in hand after Kyle Lowry's layup with 8:31 left put Houston up 89-75.
But Aldridge converted a three-point play and added a jumper to start a 13-3 run. Yao Ming gave away his fifth turnover before Travis Outlaw's 3-pointer and driving layup cut Houston's lead to 91-88.
The Rockets missed six straight shots, but the Blazers couldn't take full advantage. Steve Blake missed a 3-pointer, Outlaw couldn't score on a drive and Aldridge missed a shot from the wing in the final two minutes.
Roy scored twice in the final 22 seconds, but the Rockets put the game away from the free-throw line to end the Blazers' three-game win streak.
"Our record doesn't show it, but we're starting to show the type of team we are," Artest said. "We're starting to come together."
Spurs 93, Mavericks 76
At San Antonio, Tony Parker had 37 points and 12 assists with All-Star teammate Tim Duncan sitting out with a sore right knee, and the short-handed Spurs held Dallas to its worst offensive showing this season.
Parker scored 26 points in the first half and shouldered the load without Duncan and Manu Ginobili, who hasn't played since the All-Star break because of a stress reaction in his right ankle.
Josh Howard scored 19 points for Dallas.
Heat 103, Pistons 91
At Miami, Dwyane Wade scored 31 points and had a career-high 16 assists, and Miami handed Detroit its seventh straight loss — the Pistons' longest slide in more than seven years.
Allen Iverson scored 22 points and Tayshaun Prince added 18 for the Pistons (27-28), who fell under .500 this late in a season for the first time since 2000-01.
Lakers 107, Thunder 93
At Oklahoma City, Kobe Bryant scored 10 of his 36 points in a 3-minute span of the fourth quarter and moved ahead of Adrian Dantley into 19th place on the NBA's career scoring list.
Kevin Durant scored 32 to lead Oklahoma City in its sixth straight loss.
Bulls 120, Magic 102
At Chicago, Derrick Rose scored 22 points and the Bulls got strong efforts from their newcomers while scoring the most points given up by Orlando this season.
The three Bulls acquired at the trade deadline combined for 37 points in their home debuts. Tim Thomas scored 17 points, John Salmons 11 and Brad Miller had nine points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Dwight Howard had 26 points and 12 rebounds for Orlando.
Suns 112, Bobcats 102
At Phoenix, Steve Nash scored 22 points despite leaving with an ankle injury and the Suns spoiled the return of Boris Diaw and Raja Bell to US Airways Center.
Diaw finished with a season-high 27 points, along with nine rebounds and six assists. Bell scored 23 with three rebounds and three assists. They were traded to Charlotte two months ago.
Cavaliers 94, Grizzlies 79
At Cleveland, Daniel Gibson scored 19 points and Mo Williams added 18 as the Cavaliers won while playing again without Delonte West, who was resting his sore wrist.
LeBron James scored 15 points in 30 minutes and didn't play the fourth quarter, thanks to Cleveland's big lead throughout the game.
Rudy Gay and Hakim Warrick scored 13 points apiece for Memphis, which lost its fifth straight.
Raptors 118, Timberwolves 100
At Toronto, Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani each scored 26 points, Anthony Parker had 24, and the Raptors beat Minnesota for the 10th consecutive time.
Randy Foye scored 25 and Ryan Gomes had 23 for the Timberwolves, who have lost 11 of 13.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.