With McGrady on a scoring binge, the Rockets look to extend their winning streak to six games when they visit the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.
Yao is expected to be out at least six weeks after breaking his right leg against the Los Angeles Clippers on Dec. 23. The 7-foot-6 center was having his best season, averaging 25.9 points, and the Rockets lost the first game after his injury.
McGrady and Yao’s replacement, 40-year-old Dikembe Mutombo, have helped lead a turnaround as Houston (21-12) has won five straight, including a 100-86 victory over Utah on Friday.
McGrady had a season-high 44 points while Mutombo pulled down 19 rebounds against the Jazz. McGrady has topped 30 points in four consecutive games and has begun to show the scoring touch that helped him lead the NBA in scoring in 2002-03.
“I tried to set the tone right away,” McGrady said. “I wanted to let my teammates know that this is how it’s going to be until the final buzzer ends it. If I’ve got it rolling like that and my guys are knocking down shots, we can beat the best of them in this league.”
McGrady missed seven games with back spasms in December, but has looked healthy while shooting 53 percent over the last four contests.
Mutombo has grabbed at least 10 rebounds in each game during the winning streak and has six double-digit rebounding games this season. He had only six all last season and is enjoying perhaps his most productive stretch since 2003-04, when he was with New York in his last year as a full-time starter.
Mutombo’s 19 rebounds were his most since getting 20 against Orlando on Jan. 9, 2002, when he was with Philadelphia.
The Rockets, who are 9-9 on the road, visit Chicago on Monday and play five of their next six away from home.
The Timberwolves (16-15) have won three in a row to get back over .500 for the first time since they were 10-9 on Dec. 9. This is the third of a four-game homestand for Minnesota, which has won the first two games in overtime by two points apiece.
The Timberwolves beat San Antonio 103-101 on Wednesday, then defeated Philadelphia 104-102 on Friday night. After missing a potential game-winning shot at the end of regulation against the 76ers, Kevin Garnett drained a 15-footer as the buzzer sounded in overtime to give Minnesota its fourth straight victory at the Target Center.
“Right before overtime, I told myself when I had the shot that I rushed it a little bit,” said Garnett, who had 25 points and 14 rebounds. “I had to take my time.”
The Timberwolves, who are 10-5 at the Target Center, conclude their homestand on Wednesday against the Clippers.
Houston and Minnesota have split their last eight meetings, including two matchups this season. The Rockets won 82-75 at home on Nov. 28 and lost 90-84 in Minneapolis on Dec. 6.