HOUSTON - LeBron James drove to the basket in the fourth quarter, trying to spark a last-ditch comeback for the Cavaliers against the Houston Rockets.
Yao Ming was there to block his dunk attempt and James twisted his ankle, a fitting end to a terrible night for Cleveland.
James went an entire game without an assist for the first time in his career and the Cavaliers lost Ben Wallace for four to six weeks in a 93-74 loss to Houston.
The Rockets, meanwhile, showed they just might be contenders in the Western Conference.
Yao scored 28 points and Ron Artest added 15 while harassing James on defense most of the night, leading the Rockets to their six consecutive win and ninth straight at home.
“It is a big win,” said Yao, who hit 13 of 15 shots despite Cleveland’s constant double-teams. “We played against one of the best quality teams in this league. That is a really good test for us to see how far we can go.”
James scored 21 points, but went 7-for-21 from the field with three turnovers. He left for good with 4:03 left, the only time in 493 NBA games (counting playoffs) he failed to record an assist.
The Cavaliers had season-low point totals in the first (11) and third (10) quarters, and their 34 percent shooting (27-for-80) was also a season worst.
“I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have an assist,” James said, “but as a team, we didn’t move the ball at all.”
To make matters worse, the Cavaliers lost their best interior defender when Wallace broke his leg in the second quarter after Yao accidentally kicked him.
“I’ll definitely be back for the playoffs, I’m hoping to come back before then,” Wallace said after breaking his right fibula.
Von Wafer scored 19 points and Luis Scola added 14 points and nine rebounds for the Rockets. Houston had 25 assists, its sixth straight game with 20 or more, and went 8-for-19 from 3-point range.
But the Rockets are more satisfied with their defense lately; they’ve held their last six opponents to an average of 83.6 points.
“You may get into the second round (of the playoffs), but if you want to make a serious run and be a serious contender,” said Wafer, “you’ve got to be able to continue to play defense. We are trying to come together as a unit.”
Mo Williams also scored 21 for the Cavs, who had a five-game winning streak snapped.
Cleveland looked as bad as it did in a 92-77 loss in Houston last season— James had 32 in that one, but the Cavs shot 39.7 percent.
“We just can’t seem to get into a good flow against the Houston team,” James said. “A lot of credit has to go to them, they are a very good team. Offensively, we couldn’t make a shot and we could never get in any rhythm.”
The Rockets led 45-40 at halftime, and had assists on their first five baskets of the second half. James, meanwhile, tried a no-look, over-his-head pass to Anderson Varejao later in the third period, but the ball sailed out of bounds.
The Cavs shot 5-for-17 from the field and coughed up five turnovers in the third quarter to trail 68-50.
James took a rest and returned with 7:21 left in the game, but the Rockets never lost control. Yao blocked James on a dunk try and Wafer finished off Cleveland with a 3-pointer at the other end for an 85-68 lead.
Lakers 132, Suns 106
At Los Angeles, the Lakers scored 70 points in the first half and rolled past the Steve Nash-less Suns for their sixth consecutive victory.
Kobe Bryant had 22 points and eight rebounds for the Lakers, while former teammate Shaquille O’Neal had 12 points and seven rebounds for the Suns, who trail first-place Los Angeles by 15 games in the Pacific Division.
O’Neal was warmly received by the crowd at Staples Center, where the Lakers improved to 27-4 and have won four in a row.
Lamar Odom had 23 points to lead the Lakers and Pau Gasol added 16 points and nine rebounds.
Leandro Barbosa led Phoenix with 18 points and Alando Tucker, who started in place of Nash, scored 16.