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Rockets win without Francis for just second time this season
HOUSTONIt is not impossible for the Houston Rockets to win without Steve Francis. Improbable, but not impossible.
Cuttino Mobley scored 26 points and Moochie Norris added 21 Tuesday night as the Rockets beat the Memphis Grizzlies 85-78 for just their second win in 21 games this season without their best player.
Norris also had seven assists as he started in place of Francis, who was out with a migraine headache for the fourth time in the last month.
Houston's only other victory without Francis came Dec. 22 against Milwaukee.
Norris, who made his 22nd start of the season, usually doesn't know he's starting until he gets to the arena.
"We know Steve is our main man, but I think we know we can win without him now. I try to just do a better job of pushing the ball up and playing one-on-one when he's not here," Norris said.
Brevin Knight, who had four points and eight assists starting in place of Jason Williams, left with 9:18 to play with a sprained right ankle. Rodney Buford and Battier both struggled to fill in for Knight after he left.
"I pride myself on being a renaissance man but this is ridiculous," Battier said of his first minutes as a point guard. "But it's my job to do whatever the coaches say. I pride myself on doing a lot of things on the court, but a year ago I never thought I'd be bringing the ball up against Cuttino Mobley in a fullcourt press.
Pau Gasol scored 25 points and had 11 rebounds for Memphis, which lost for the fifth time in its last six games.
"Moochie did a real good job for them," Gasol said. "He took control of the game. When you're missing Steve Francis, you're missing an All-Star player. But they have other players and they kept playing."
The Rockets scored six unanswered points to take their biggest lead, 75-67 with 3:26 remaining. Memphis pulled back to 77-74 with 31 seconds to play, but a steal and subsequent three-point play by Mobley with 28 seconds remaining wrapped up the game.
Gasol had 11 points the first quarter as the Grizzlies led much of the way, but Mobley had eight points and Norris hit a shot at the buzzer to give Houston a 24-22 lead after one.
Four points apiece by Battier and Buford fueled a 12-2 run midway through the second quarter that put Memphis up 38-32. But Norris had four of his eight second-quarter points to lead an 8-2 stretch that pulled the Rockets back even at 42-42 with 1:23 to play in the second quarter.
Battier hit a layup just before the buzzer to give the Grizzlies a 46-44 halftime lead as Gasol had 15 and Battier 13.
Memphis stretched its lead to as many as nine in the third quarter as Grant Long scored nine points. But the Rockets again came back with a 10-3 run in the final 2:22 to trail only 61-59 after three.