Reservations for Six: Rockets rack up wins sans Yao
Houston, there is no problem. As the Houston Rockets continue winning basketball games and gaining ground in the competitive Western Conference, it appears nothing can go wrong.
It seems nobody told the Rockets they weren’t supposed to be this good without Yao Ming, out for the season because of a stress fracture in his left foot. The Rockets have won six consecutive games since Yao went out, and a franchise record 18 consecutive games going into Monday night against the New Jersey Nets. The Rockets have since moved from the 10th seed in a very deep Western Conference to sole possession of the third seed.
The Rockets beat the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday night 106-96, led by Tracy McGrady’s 41 points and nine assists. Rafer Alston added 20 points and the Rockets have now won two in a row against the Hornets.
The Rockets were also dialed in from long distance, hitting a season high 14 3-pointers. This game gave the Rockets 12 consecutive wins at the Toyota Center, and its fifth game in a row scoring 100 or more points. The team has also won 11 consecutive road games, and has beaten their opponents by double digits in nine consecutive games. The Rockets became only the seventh NBA team in history to win an impressive 18 consecutive games.
Houston is 42-20 as of Monday morning, and has not lost a game since its 89-97 loss to the Utah Jazz Jan. 27, almost six weeks ago. A perfect record in February led to Rick Adelman winning Western Conference Coach of the Month, and forward Luis Scola winning Western Conference Rookie of the Month. McGrady has put the team on his shoulders with the loss of Yao, and everyone has responded and played well to keep the streak alive. Rookies Carl Landry and Luis Scola have emerged to play major roles in the success of the team.
Alston has also played well at point guard and veteran Shane Battier continues to be a great defensive stopper while contributing on offense with the 3-point shot. Veteran center Dikembe Mutombo has stepped into the starting lineup since Yao went out and has tallied 12 blocks in six games.
The Rockets did make two trades at the trade deadline, acquiring veteran point guard Bobby Jackson from the Hornets for guard Mike James and forward Bonzi Wells. Slam Dunk Champion of 2007 and Houston product Gerald Green was also acquired for guard Kirk Snyder. Jackson brings depth to the point guard position behind Alston. The absence of Yao at the center position led to the recent signing of rookie center Justin Williams out of Wyoming.
During the win streak, the Rockets have beaten playoff-caliber teams in the Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks. Houston has pulled within one game of the Spurs for the Southwest Division lead, and are within a game and a half of the Western Conference No. 1 seed, currently held by the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Rockets play their next three games against Eastern Conference opponents (the Nets, Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Bobcats) who have a sub .500 winning percentages. They will then host two big showdowns; March 16 against the Lakers and March 18 against the Boston Celtics, who have the best record in the NBA.
If the Rockets continue to beat the teams they are supposed to beat, they could have a 21-game winning streak by the time the Lakers come to town.