After struggling to find their offensive rhythm for most of the early season, the Rockets finally appear to have hit their stride. They have won nine of 11 since an 87-74 home loss to Indiana on Jan. 18, and are coming off a 105-92 victory over Chicago on Wednesday.
McGrady, the reigning Western Conference player of the week, scored 24 points and Yao Ming added 21 and 10 rebounds as the Rockets shot 50 percent in their fourth-straight 100-point effort.
“The offense is definitely clicking,” McGrady said. “We’ve been doing a great job of sharing the ball, executing our offense, making the right plays for the team and limiting our turnovers.”
McGrady was just 7-of-17 from the field, but went 9-of-12 from the line and had nine assists. The All-Star forward is averaging 27 points and 6.6 assists in his last five games.
Houston continues to play strong defense, limiting Chicago to 36 percent shooting from the field. The Rockets rank among the league leaders in scoring defense, holding opponents to 92.1 points per game.
Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy has credited guard David Wesley for his defensive effort.
“I’m trying to devise a defense where Wesley can guard everybody on the perimeter,” Van Gundy said. “If I come up with that I know we’ll be good defensively. He set a great tone for us defensively.”
Indiana has won three of four following a six-game losing streak.
One day after being selected to play in his fourth straight All-Star game, Jermaine O’Neal scored 29 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, helping the Pacers hold off a late rally in a 94-87 win over expansion Charlotte on Wednesday.
“To be invited is an honor, but it’s only for a couple of days,” said O’Neal, averaging 32.3 points in his last three games. “Then I’ve got to get back to the real mission, that’s this team. This is my team.”
Stephen Jackson added 22 points and seven rebounds for the Pacers. Jackson is averaging 18.8 points in his last five games.
Indiana may be a bit distracted by the sudden announcement by Cheryl Miller that her brother Reggie will be retiring at the end of the season.
“Over the last couple of weeks there has been a lot of speculation on whether or not this will be Reggie Miller’s last season,” Cheryl Miller said. “Yesterday I spoke to Reggie, and after 18 seasons with the Indiana Pacers, this will definitely be his last season.”
STANDINGS (through Feb. 9): Rockets - 3rd place (tied), 10 GB, Southwest Division. Pacers - 4th place, 5 1/2 GB, Central Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Rockets - McGrady, 25.8 ppg and 5.8 apg; Yao, 8.6 rpg. Pacers - O’Neal, 26.7 ppg; Foster, 9.9 rpg; Jamaal Tinsley, 6.6 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Pacers, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Jan. 18; Pacers, 87-74. At Houston, Tinsley scored 28 points, including six during a key 10-0 run in the fourth quarter, to lead the Pacers. Houston committed 20 turnovers.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rockets - 13-11 on the road; Pacers - 12-11 at home.
INJURIES: Rockets - F Maurice Taylor (heel); G Reece Gaines (knee); G Charlie Ward (knee); G Rod Strickland (quadriceps). Pacers - F Jonathan Bender (knee); G-F Michael Curry (hamstring); C John Edwards (quadriceps); G Tinsley (foot).