HOUSTON (AP) - Eliminated from playoff contention, the Houston Rockets still looked like a team with plenty of incentive against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Chase Budinger, Kevin Martin and Brad Miller scored 16 points apiece and Chuck Hayes had 12 points and 13 rebounds in Houston's 99-78 win Saturday night.
Goran Dragic had 14 points, seven assists and a career-high 10 rebounds in his first start for the Rockets since he was acquired from Phoenix at the trade deadline.
The Rockets dominated one night after Memphis' win ended their postseason hopes. Houston is at least assured of finishing over .500 now, and Hayes said the players are motivated to improve on last season's 42-40 mark.
``If we win out and go 44-38, that would be a great achievement,' Hayes said. ``That would show the character of this team.'
Houston plays Dallas on Monday and wraps up the regular season in Minnesota on Wednesday.
``The main emphasis is just finishing the season strong,' Budinger said. ``That's about it.'
On Saturday, the Rockets played without injured starters Kyle Lowry (bone bruise in left foot) and Luis Scola (sore left knee). Dragic started for Lowry and rookie Patrick Patterson replaced Scola.
Dragic shook off a hard fall in the first half, and ended up playing 39 minutes.
``Every player wants to play a lot of minutes,' Dragic said. ``Toward the end of the game, my legs were a little bit heavy and your shot is not so consistent. But you have to go through that, and try to play hard.'
Eric Gordon scored 19 points and Blake Griffin had 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Clippers. Griffin went 6 for 18 from the field, guarded mostly by Hayes, Houston's top interior defender.
``He is extremely smart and he knows exactly what to do and what angles he takes away from you,' Griffin said. ``He doesn't look like the typical shutdown big man. But he is so strong and he gets the job done.'
Houston blocked 11 shots and held the Clippers to 35 percent shooting (33 of 95), a season low for a Rockets' opponent.
The Rockets took control with a 22-9 spurt in the second quarter that put them up 53-37 at the break. The Clippers went 3 minutes without scoring at the start of the spurt, and shot 33 percent in the quarter (15 of 46).
``We were able to get some stops and get out in transition,' Budinger said of the game's decisive stretch. ``We were definitely attacking and we were able to put them on their heels.'
Houston outrebounded Los Angeles 32-22 in the first half. The Rockets grabbed two offensive rebounds on a possession early in the third period, and Hayes' layup made it 59-42.
Griffin cut inside for a one-handed dunk with 3:16 left in the third quarter, but the Rockets stayed in command. Dragic swished a 3-pointer from the corner with 1:25 remaining for a 74-55 lead.
The Clippers failed to score 20 points in any of the first three quarters.
``We just couldn't put the ball in the basket,' Los Angeles coach Vinny Del Negro said. ``Houston got a lot of rebounds, and we kept missing shots.'
Los Angeles missed seven of its first eight shots in the final quarter, and Courtney Lee's reverse layup stretched the deficit over 20 points.
Miller sank a 3 with 8:35 left to put the Rockets up 83-57. Miller went 4 for 4 on 3s.
Griffin came out for good with 5:22 remaining and Houston ahead 91-65.
The Rockets tied a season high with 58 rebounds.
Dragic landed hard after he was fouled by Mo Williams on a driving layup with 5:26 left in the first quarter. He limped off the floor during a timeout, but then hit the resulting free throw.
The Rockets went 4 for 7 on 3s in the opening quarter and led 25-18.
NOTES: The Rockets have won 25 of the last 31 meetings. ... Houston has won its last 18 games when holding its opponent under 100 points, the league's longest active streak. ... Clippers G Eric Bledsoe was suspended for the game for violating team rules, and Del Negro would not elaborate on what Bledsoe did. ... Clippers C Chris Kaman (sprained right knee) and F Ryan Gomes (sore left knee) sat out. Kaman has missed 49 games this season. ... Griffin has at least 10 rebounds in 62 games this season, tying Elton Brand's franchise record set in 2001-02. ... Adelman earned his 944th career victory, tying former Houston coach Bill Fitch for eighth all-time.
The Associated Press News Service
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