Utah (12-16) at Houston (10-15)

Cloudy Currently: Houston, TX
Temp: 50° F
  • Game info: 8:30 pm EST Tue Dec 27, 2005
Preview | Box Score | Recap

Much was made of Tracy McGrady’s absence during the Houston Rockets’ early-season struggles.

Now, the All-Star swingman is learning how difficult it can be to win in this league without adequate support.

McGrady and the injury-plagued Rockets will try to snap out of their most recent funk as they host the Utah Jazz.

The Rockets lost all eight games without McGrady earlier this season when he was sidelined with a nagging back injury. Upon his return, Houston turned things around and won a season-high five straight games in a 6-1 stretch.

However, the Rockets have once again fallen on hard times, due mostly to an infected left toe on the foot of All-Star center Yao Ming. Yao had surgery Dec. 19 on the toe, and the Rockets have lost three of their last four games, including Friday’s 108-86 setback at Denver.

McGrady scored 17 points, but went just 4 of 17 from the field and was held to one point the first three quarters as the Nuggets collapsed on him without a significant low-post threat. McGrady had a season-low seven points in a 94-81 loss to Toronto two nights earlier.

The Rockets have six injured players in all, including Yao, Jon Barry and Derek Anderson. That has left the team with only nine active players available, including CBA call-up Stephen Graham, Moochie Norris and Lonnie Baxter, none of whom would be seeing more than mop-up duty were it not for the injuries.

Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy, who called Friday’s effort “what you would have seen from guys that had played on lottery teams” refused, however, to use the injury spate as an excuse.

“It goes beyond adversity,” he said. “This is an attitude situation. If there is adversity, so what? Anybody can be great when it’s going good. There is no tough set of circumstances. We were very weak-minded when it came to dealing with our situation tonight.”

Yao is expected to miss several more games before his return.

The Jazz got a boost Monday from the return of power forward Andrei Kirilenko, holding on for an impressive 105-102 overtime win over Memphis. Kirilenko, out for three straight Utah losses due to back spasms, finished with a season-high 24 points and 14 rebounds.

He also made two key defensive plays down the stretch as the Jazz improved to 8-4 in his starts this season. Utah is 2-8 when Kirilenko doesn’t play.

STANDINGS (through Dec. 26): Jazz - 4th place, 2 1/2 GB, Northwest Division. Rockets - 5th place, 9 1/2 GB, Southwest Division.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Jazz - F Kirilenko, F Mehmet Okur, C Jarron Collins, G Gordan Giricek, G Deron Williams. Rockets - F Juwan Howard, F Ryan Bowen, C Stromile Swift, G McGrady, G David Wesley.

TEAM LEADERS: Jazz - Okur, 17.7 ppg and 8.6 rpg; Williams, 5 apg. Rockets - McGrady, 23.2 ppg and 5.3 apg; Yao, 9 rpg.

2004-05 SEASON SERIES: Tied, 2-2.

LAST MEETING: March 28; Rockets, 99-85. At Utah, McGrady scored 44 points to help the Rockets salvage a season-series split. Okur led the Jazz with 25 points.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Jazz - 6-8 on the road; Rockets - 3-7 at home.

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