Houston (10-14) at Denver (12-14)

Cloudy Currently: Denver, CO
Temp: 58° F
  • Game info: 9:00 pm EST Fri Dec 23, 2005
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This season has a familiar feel to the Denver Nuggets. Too bad it’s not a good one.

Denver will try to snap its season-high four-game losing streak when it hosts the Houston Rockets.

Much like a year ago this week when the Nuggets were in the midst of a six-game skid, Denver continues to play inconsistent basketball and hover around the .500 mark.

The 2004-05 team went on to lose 10 of its next 14 games after the losing streak before finding the spark it needed by hiring coach George Karl on Jan. 27. Karl led Denver to a 32-8 record the rest of the way and a playoff berth.

Karl, however, inherited a much healthier Nuggets team last season and has had to deal with several key injuries this year, including losing starters Carmelo Anthony, Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin at various times. Forward Nene already is out for the season after he suffered a knee injury in the opener.

In a 116-110 home loss to Washington on Wednesday, Denver was without injured guards Greg Buckner and Earl Boykins, and Martin was limited to 25 minutes due to a bothersome knee.

Anthony had 29 points and Camby added 23 points and 11 rebounds, but the Nuggets looked sluggish coming off a 2-4 road trip, hitting just 55.3 percent of their free-throw attempts while being outrebounded 45-36.

Anthony has played well since sitting out Nov. 30 against New Orleans with a sprained ankle, averaging 28.5 points in 10 games and topping the 40-point mark twice.

While Anthony has been racking up the points, the same can be said for Denver’s opposition. The Nuggets have allowed 110 or more points in three straight games.

“(The Wizards) made their shots and we didn’t cover anyone tonight,” Karl said. “I’m tired of excuses. I am not proud of the effort we gave tonight on both sides of the court. We needed to play a complete game and it just didn’t happen tonight.”

It didn’t happen for the Rockets either in a 94-81 loss to Toronto on Wednesday.

Returning home after a 5-1 road trip, the absence of center Yao Ming loomed large as the Raptors focused on shutting down Houston’s Tracy McGrady.

McGrady averaged 28.2 points per game on the road trip, but was held to seven points on 2-for-11 shooting from the field against the Raptors.

“It’s kind of tough when you’ve got two guys on you,” McGrady said. “They did a great job double-teaming me.”

Yao will miss at least six weeks after undergoing surgery Monday on his infected left big toe. The Rockets also were without backup center Dikembe Mutombo, and guards Derek Anderson, Jon Barry and Rafer Alston.

“With all of these guys being out, that’s pretty much all I’m going to see,” McGrady said. “I’m going to continue to do what I do. I’m not necessarily going to force any shots, but I will continue to try to get these guys the looks they got tonight.”

McGrady has averaged 26.0 points in 13 games against the Nuggets in his career. He scored 45 points and had 12 rebounds in the Rockets’ 116-98 win at the Pepsi Center last Jan. 9.

Houston is 27-12 against Denver since the start of the 1995-96 season.

STANDINGS (through Dec. 22): Rockets - 5th place, 9 GB, Southwest Division. Nuggets - 2nd place (tied), 2 1/2 GB, Northwest Division.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Rockets - F Juwan Howard, F Ryan Bowen, C Stromile Swift, G McGrady, G David Wesley. Nuggets - F Martin, F Anthony, C Camby, G DerMarr Johnson, G Andre Miller.

TEAM LEADERS: Rockets - McGrady, 23.6 ppg and 5.4 apg; Yao, 9 rpg. Nuggets - Anthony, 23.6 ppg; Camby, 13.2 rpg; Miller, 8.3 apg.

2004-05 SEASON SERIES: Rockets, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: April 16; Rockets, 115-87. At Houston, McGrady hit six 3-pointers to finish with 32 points as the Rockets beat the Nuggets for the eighth time in 11 meetings.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rockets - 7-7 on the road; Nuggets - 8-4 at home.

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