The All-Star break didn’t slow the Houston Rockets down, but a trip to Philips Arena may.
After a strong win in their first game following the break, the Rockets look to end their struggles in Atlanta when they conclude their season series with the lowly Hawks on Friday night.
In its first game in six days, Houston (34-19) beat Miami 112-102 on Wednesday night. The Rockets have won nine of 12 and are 18-8 since Yao Ming broke his right leg on Dec. 23.
“It’s exciting,” Houston forward Shane Battier said. “We still feel we have a lot of potential to improve and that’s the great news. We don’t feel we’re playing to capacity right now and, obviously, if we get the big fella back in the next month or so, he will only add to what we’re trying to do here.”
The Rockets, though, have struggled in Atlanta even though the Hawks (21-33) have been one of the NBA’s worst teams in recent years.
Houston has lost two straight and 19 of its last 26 road games against the Hawks. The Rockets are averaging 87.1 points in their last nine games in Atlanta, going 2-7, and haven’t scored more than 84 in their last two contests there.
The Hawks, however, have lost four straight at Philips Arena and are 9-16 there on the season.
Tracy McGrady had 31 points and Houston held Atlanta to its lowest point total of the season in a 94-68 win on Dec. 29.
McGrady, averaging 27.8 points in his last 10 games against the Hawks, had 32 to lead the Rockets on Wednesday. He tweaked a groin midway through the first quarter and left the game briefly to have it taped, but returned about three minutes later and said at halftime that he was fine.
Atlanta has dropped two straight after the All-Star break after winning three of its previous four. Joe Johnson led the Hawks with 30 points in a 103-96 loss to San Antonio on Wednesday night.
Johnson, who leads Atlanta with 24.9 points per game, was held to a season-low nine in a loss to Chicago the previous night. He is averaging 11.8 points in 18 games against the Rockets.
The Hawks tried to bolster the point guard position by acquiring veteran Anthony Johnson from Dallas for a second-round draft pick Thursday. This will his third sting with Atlanta, having previously played in 112 games with the Hawks from 1998-2000 and 2000-01.
“We’re happy to be able to bring Anthony Johnson back to Atlanta,” Hawks president Billy Knight said. “He provides us with another veteran presence, and brings a great deal of regular season and postseason experience to our club.”
Speedy Claxton, who was signed in the offseason to a four-year, $25 million deal, has been a disappointment. He went scoreless with two assists in 21 minutes on Wednesday.
Royal Ivey started at point guard against the Spurs and was scoreless in eight minutes.
Anthony Johnson averaged 3.8 points and 2.0 assists in 40 games with the Mavericks this season.