HOUSTON – Steve Francis broke into a smile in the final seconds of the Orlando Magic’s 76-74 victory over the Houston Rockets.

Yeah, it was definitely sweet to beat his former team.

Francis scored 27 points and had two assists to Jameer Nelson in the final two minutes as the Magic won for the first time in four games.

The Rockets (1-2) lost their second straight without Tracy McGrady, who’s out three weeks with a back injury.

Francis played for Houston from 1999-2004 and was traded in a blockbuster deal that brought McGrady to Houston in June 2004. He was booed when he was introduced and almost every time he touched the ball on Tuesday night, but shrugged off the jeers to go 12-of-26 from the field.

Dwight Howard and DeShawn Stevenson each had 12 points and Nelson scored all 10 of his in the final quarter for the Magic, who won despite shooting 37.8 percent.

Yao Ming had 17 points for Houston, which looked shaky on offense for the second straight game without McGrady. The Rockets finished 26-of-70 from the field (37 percent).

The Rockets still had a chance to win, leading 71-67 after a layup by Rafer Alston with 2:06 left.

The Rockets double-teamed Francis in the closing minutes, but Francis twice dribbled into the lane and found Nelson open for 3-pointers that put Orlando up 73-71.

After Alston missed a 3-pointer, Francis again drew in the Houston defense and passed to Nelson at the top of the key. This time, Nelson drove to the basket and hit an acrobatic layup over Yao with 51 seconds remaining.

Yao and Alston missed point-blank shots in the last minute, epitomizing the Rockets’ struggles all night.

The Rockets went 18-of-19 from the free throw line, but 4-of-16 from 3-point range.

An ugly first half ended with the Rockets up 39-38.

For the second straight game without McGrady, Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy spent the opening half tinkering with lineups. Yao scored 10 in the first half and Stromile Swift was Houston’s best reserve, adding six points with five rebounds.

Francis had 15 of Orlando’s first-half points on 7-of-13 shooting as the rest of the Magic went 9-of-26 from the field.

Yao picked up three fouls in the third quarter after getting through the first half without getting any. The Rockets missed 10 of their 15 third-quarter shots and trailed 55-52 heading to the fourth.

Notes: The teams were meeting for the third time since the seven-player trade that sent McGrady and Juwan Howard to the Rockets and Francis to Orlando. Houston won both meetings last season. … Ryan Bowen started for Houston, just the 60th start of his seven-year NBA career. … Former Australian and French Open champion Jim Courier watched the game at courtside and whacked autographed tennis balls into the crowd during a timeout.

AP-ES-11-08-05 2319EST


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