EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Yao Ming had 25 points and 11 rebounds, Tracy McGrady added 24 points, and the Houston Rockets never trailed in a 96-89 victory over the New Jersey Nets on Friday night.

Jason Kidd returned to the Nets’ lineup after a one-game absence, but his game didn’t until it was too late. He finished with 10 points – eight in the fourth quarter – seven rebounds and seven assists.

Rafer Alston scored 15 points and Shane Battier had 12 for the Rockets, who won for the fifth straight time in New Jersey. The Rockets have won two in a row overall and five of seven following a six-game skid.

Vince Carter matched his season high with 32 points, winning his scoring duel with cousin McGrady. Richard Jefferson finished with 29, but the Nets fell to a dismal 4-8 at home.

The game was never really in doubt after the first 10 minutes. The Rockets led by 12 points after the first quarter, and the Nets couldn’t get closer than six the rest of the way.

Kidd missed New Jersey’s 100-93 loss to New York on Wednesday night because of a migraine. Though coach Lawrence Frank said the Nets believed their captain, not everyone bought that story. A number of local papers wrote that Kidd skipped the game in protest to force a trade or contract extension.

He had only two points through three quarters before hitting three largely meaningless 3-pointers in the final 5 minutes. Kidd shot 4-of-12 from the field.

The Nets missed eight of their first 10 shots, and McGrady scored 13 points in the first quarter to help Houston build a 28-18 lead. He added six more in the second as the Rockets extended their lead to 48-33 at halftime.

The Nets shot only 35 percent in the first half, then came out and scored the first eight points of the third quarter, cutting Houston’s lead to 48-41 on Jefferson’s 3-pointer 1:45 into the half. Alston responded with 3s to open and close a 13-4 burst that extended the Rockets’ advantage to 61-45, and Houston was ahead 72-60 going to the fourth.

Notes: In his 17th and expected last NBA season, Houston’s Dikembe Mutombo walked into the arena and announced, “This is my last visit to the Meadowlands.” Then, as if he’d never been here before, walked right past the entrance to the visitor’s locker room before a security guard pointed him in the right direction. … Pat Fraher called technicals on Carter and Frank during the second quarter. Carter’s came after he nearly smacked the referee in the face waving his hand in anger for not getting a call.

AP-ES-12-07-07 2157EST

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