Despite an injury to their star center, the Houston Rockets are as hot as they’ve been all season.
They can only get hotter by beating the owners of the league’s best record on Tuesday, looking to win a season-high five straight for the second time in three weeks when they visit the Dallas Mavericks.
Houston (25-13) beat the Sacramento Kings 115-111 in overtime on Saturday for its fourth four-game winning streak of the season. The Rockets have won nine of 10, including a season-best five-game winning streak from Dec. 27-Jan. 5.
The recent surge has been especially impressive considering Houston has been without center Yao Ming. Yao was in the middle of a career season before fracturing his right leg Dec. 23 against the Los Angeles Clippers, averaging 25.9 points and 9.4 rebounds.
Houston has dropped just two of 11 games without him.
“Everyone needs to step up and do something until Yao gets back, and that’s what we’re doing, it’s a different guy every night,” said Shane Battier, averaging 15.9 points in seven games this month—his best of the season.
Yao is not expected to return until next month at the earliest.
Tracy McGrady scored 37 points Saturday after totaling just 20 over his previous two games. McGrady, who also had nine assists against the Kings, was 0-of-11 from the 3-point line in his previous two games but went 3-of-7 from beyond the arc Saturday.
“He started bad in the first half, but in the second half he always picks up his momentum,” said teammate Dikembe Mutombo, who had 11 points and 18 rebounds. “We know Tracy will always come out and rescue us.”
McGrady, who is shooting 32.8 percent from the field over the last three games but has 32 assists in that span, missed seven contests in December with back spasms and the Rockets went 2-5.
Mutombo has grabbed at least 10 rebounds in 10 straight games starting in place of Yao.
However, Yao was a big reason Houston won the only meeting with Dallas (31-8) this season, scoring 36 points in a 107-76 home victory on Nov. 4 during the Mavericks’ 0-4 start.
The Mavs have since lost only four times in 35 games, including a 17-1 mark since Dec. 11. They enter this matchup on a four-game winning streak after Josh Howard hit the go-ahead layup with 0.9 seconds left in Sunday’s 97-96 victory at Toronto.
“Yes, I think that we have learned over the years how to close out close games,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who had 38 points and 11 rebounds. “I think that is what really got us to the finals last year. In the playoffs there aren’t many blowouts, every game is close down the stretch, and we have learned how to win those.”
Nowitzki had a season-high 43 points in Friday’s 115-113 overtime victory at Indiana. He’s averaged 36.8 points in five road games this month, but has averaged only 20.3 in his last eight at home.
Dallas has won 10 consecutive home games since losing to Detroit on Dec. 7, and only one of those victories was decided by fewer than nine points.