Tracy McGrady is making his recent seven-game absence due to back spasms a distant memory.
He will likely need to stay at the top of his game Monday when he leads his Houston Rockets into Chicago to visit the Bulls - one of the league’s best home teams.
McGrady is averaging 30.1 points in seven games since his Dec. 26 return, leading the Rockets to a 5-2 record over that span. He scored 31 on Sunday at Minnesota - his fifth straight game with at least 30 - but it wasn’t enough as Houston fell 103-99 in overtime to the Timberwolves, snapping a season-high five-game winning streak.
McGrady struggled despite his point total, going 12-for-29 from the field, 5-for-10 from the free-throw line, and committing five turnovers. The Houston (21-13) star did send the game into overtime after making a driving layup with 11 seconds left.
Houston attempted only 19 free throws - two in the second half - compared with 40 for Minnesota, frustrating Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy.
“That is obviously problematic,” Van Gundy said. “We scored more points than them in the paint, so we were obviously going to the basket.”
McGrady is averaging 21.6 points in 26 career games against the Bulls (20-14). He scored 21 in Houston’s 101-100 home win over Chicago on Nov. 16 - the Rockets’ seventh victory in the last eight meetings between the clubs. The last two games have been decided by one point, however.
Chicago owns the Eastern Conference’s top home record at 15-3, but has lost its last three meetings with Houston at the United Center.
The Bulls avoided a third consecutive loss overall on Saturday, defeating the Pistons 106-89 while holding Detroit to just 34.8 percent shooting.
Luol Deng’s 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting led the Bulls. Deng is averaging 25.6 points over his last five games.
The game was a reunion for Ben Wallace, who played six seasons with the Pistons. Despite stories of a contentious relationship between the Bulls center and his former team, Wallace warmly greeted former teammates and coach Flip Saunders.
“It was just exciting to be out there - to have an opportunity to play against those guys, talk a little trash,” said Wallace, who had 12 points, 14 rebounds and a season-high six blocks. “It brings a lot of excitement.”
Wallace is averaging 6.1 points and 11.3 rebounds in 16 career games against the Rockets, and will look to take advantage of the absence of Houston center Yao Ming, who is sidelined with a broken bone in his right leg.
Chicago travels to Washington to face the Wizards on Wednesday, before returning home for seven of its following nine games.