EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) – Shane Battier hit a career-high seven 3-pointers and scored 23 points, and the Houston Rockets limited the New Jersey Nets to 33 percent shooting in a 96-71 victory Wednesday night.

Tracy McGrady added 17 points and six assists, while fellow guard Rafer Alston had 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists for the Rockets, who snapped a two-game losing streak and won for only the third time in nine games.

Juwan Howard had 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Rockets, who outrebounded the Nets 54-32 despite being without All-Star center Yao Ming, who will be sidelined for six weeks with a fractured bone beneath his right knee.

The Nets big three of Vince Carter (12), Jason Kidd (11) and Richard Jefferson (11) combined for 34 points on 11-for-40 shooting from the field. New Jersey was 24-of-73 from the field, including just 3-of-16 from 3-point range, in losing its fourth straight game.

The 25-point margin of defeat was the Nets’ worst this season. The previous biggest loss was 18 to Portland on Nov. 18.

Houston never trailed in the game in which both teams shot poorly at the start, hitting only five baskets on their first 20 shots.

Battier was 7-for-12 from 3-point range, bettering his previous career best of five 3s.

Battier hit a 3-pointer and a layup in a late 9-4 spurt that gave the Rockets an 18-12 lead after the first quarter.

McGrady, who returned Tuesday night against Indiana after missing seven games with a back injury, scored 10 points in the second quarter to push the lead to 49-39.

Leading 52-42 in the third quarter, the Rockets went on an 8-0 run. Alston hit two free throws, McGrady hit a fadeaway jumper and Dikembe Mutombo and Howard scored baskets to push the lead to 60-42 and the Nets never threatened again.

Notes: The Rockets will play their four games at home after playing 10 of 12 (5-7) on the road. … Houston scored a season-low 76 points on Tuesday night in Indiana. … New Jersey is 1-14 in games it scores less than 100 points and 2-12 when trailing entering the final quarter. … Houston’s Luther Head extended his team-record of hitting a 3-pointer to 28 straight games. … Kidd was fined $10,000 by the NBA on Wednesday for a postgame rant in which he referred to officials Jim Clark, Tom Washington and Eric Lewis as “three blind mice” following a one-point loss to Detroit on Tuesday.

AP-ES-12-27-06 2203EST


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