With Yao still sidelined, the Rockets will have to find another answer as they look to get back on track when they visit the Denver Nuggets on Friday night trying to avoid a season high-tying third loss in a row.
Yao suffered a broken tibia in an on-court collision during a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Dec. 23. Houston (35-22) responded by going 17-7, but have stumbled since while losing four of its last six including a 106-90 loss to Toronto on Wednesday.
The Rockets—who lead the lead in field goal percentage defense at 42.4 percent—allowed Toronto to shoot 57.1 percent, a season high for an opponent. Houston gives up an average of 90.8 points per game, but has allowed more than 100 points in four of their last seven contests.
“I think we just have to recommit ourselves for the remainder of the season,” Rockets swingman Tracy McGrady said Wednesday. “I think we have kind of got away from doing what makes us good. We’re not rebounding, we’re not defending. We’re not doing the little things that make us a good team.”
McGrady returned to the Rockets lineup Wednesday after missing Monday’s 77-72 loss to Boston with flu-like symptoms. He had 22 points, six rebounds and five assists against the Raptors, and is averaging 30.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.0 assists over his last six games.
Despite McGrady’s strong play, the Rockets were inconsistent in February going 6-6 after a 10-4 record in January.
“We want to play better,” forward Shane Battier said. “We know that if we want to do anything this season, we can’t have stretches like this. Everyone goes through them but the good teams come out of them a lot quicker.”
The Rockets will try to break out of their funk against a potent Denver offense that ranks second in the league in scoring at 105.1 points per game.
But the Nuggets (28-28) have had their own struggles recently, losing four in a row Feb. 14-24. Denver, though, has won back-to-back games to climb back to .500.
The Nuggets got 34 points, seven assists and five steals from Allen Iverson in a 111-101 win over Orlando on Wednesday.
In five games since returning from a sprained right ankle that sidelined him for eight of Denver’s nine games Jan. 31-Feb. 14, Iverson is averaging 25.4 points, 6.0 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.4 steals.
“My ankle isn’t 100 percent yet, but it’s a lot better than it has been, and it’s feeling better and better every game,” Iverson said after the win.
Denver overcame a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit in a 121-113 overtime win in Houston when these teams last met Jan. 20. Despite playing without Anthony, the Nuggets scored 20 of the game’s final 25 points to even the season series at one game each.
That snapped Houston’s three-game win streak in the series. The Rockets have won five of their last eight meetings with the Nuggets, including two in a row in Denver.