Basketball: Houston cruise through

Basketball

DUNCAN HOOPER

reports from London Arena

The Houston Rockets breezed into the London Arena last night for their long awaited debut, but the NBA champions had to wait until the second half before cruising past the Perth Wildcats in their semi-final of the McDonald's championship.

The Rockets, without the injured 7ft centre, Hakeem Olajuwon, and looking out of sync two weeks before the start of America's close season eventually won 116-72.

But they led only 51-42 at the break after Andrew Vlahov and Scott Fisher led the Wildcats on a shut-out which denied Houston a field basket for nearly four minutes.

The Wildcats, fresh from winning the Australian championship only last weekend, made only one of their first 19 shots but then hit 12 of the next 20, while the Rockets shooting performance went off in the opposite direction.

But after the break, Kenny Smith opened their scoring with a three pointer and when Clyde Drexler also regained his shooting touch from beyond the long range arc, the NBA champions pulled away in spectacular style.

Once they relaxed they began to play to the crowd of around 10,000. Most of them got to their feet when Drexler drove the full length of the court before reversing a pass under the basket to the 6ft 10 in Robert Horry. Horry spurned the easy dunk and instead swept beneath the rim before slamming the ball home with a windmill arm action.

In today's final, Houston defend the NBA's six-year unbeaten record in the McDonald's against Italy's Buckler Bologna. Bologna defeated the European champions, Real Madrid, 102-96 in the first semi-final and would fancy their chances if only the Rockets played as they did in the first half against Perth.

Sheffield Sharks' big moment on Thursday night turned sour after their 99-71 defeat by Real Madrid. The England international Roger Huggins claimed that the Spaniard, Ignacio Romero, connected with racial slurs as well as elbows during their first-round game.

Madrid's coach, Zedijko Obradovic, refused to comment on the incident, but said: "We played a serious game. My players were motivated. After we beat Sheffield by only three points in Madrid two weeks ago, their players said they would take revenge."

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