Coming off his best performance of the season, McGrady will lead the Rockets into the Rose Garden to face the Portland Trail Blazers.
Acquired in the blockbuster offseason deal that sent All-Star guard Steve Francis to Orlando, McGrady was clearly having trouble finding his rhythm with the Rockets as Houston lost four of five after a three-game winning streak.
With the Rockets trailing late against the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday, the league’s reigning scoring champion took command. He hit a pair of free throws with 1.1 seconds remaining to force overtime and added five points during the extra session to finish with a season-high 32 as Houston pulled out a much-needed 91-86 victory.
“That’s my role,” said McGrady. “When I see the team struggling offensively, it’s my job to take over the game and just try to make things happen—knocking down shots, getting to the free throw line and getting other guys involved.”
The Rockets had suffered late-game collapses in dropping their previous two, but McGrady would not allow another meltdown.
“We basically just rode his back down the stretch and in overtime,” forward Maurice Taylor said of McGrady.
Yao Ming, who still appears to be struggling to mesh with McGrady, managed just 10 points and eight rebounds before fouling out. Yao is averaging 25.4 points in five home games, compared with 12.5 in six road games.
The Blazers have won two of three since a three-game losing streak, including Friday’s 110-98 victory over Milwaukee. Damon Stoudamire scored 33 points, hitting six 3-pointers, and Zach Randolph added 22 points and 18 rebounds for Portland, which responded well to a closed-door meeting after an ugly 19-point loss to Memphis on Wednesday.
“I never questioned after the other night that we wouldn’t come back and play hard,” Cheeks said. “I knew we’d respond.”
STANDINGS (through Nov. 19): Rockets - 3rd place, 4 GB, Southwest Division. Trail Blazers - 4th place, 4 GB, Northwest Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Rockets - McGrady, 20.4 ppg and 5.1 apg; Yao, 8.2 rpg. Trail Blazers - Randolph, 20.4 ppg and 12.1 rpg; Stoudamire, 6.8 apg.
2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Rockets, 3-1.
LAST MEETING: March 22; Rockets, 93-85 (OT). At Portland, Yao had 28 points and 13 rebounds as Houston won the season series and snapped a three-game losing streak. Randolph led the Blazers with 20 points.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rockets - 3-3 on the road; Trail Blazers - 3-1 at home.