They’ll have to face Yao for the first time in more than two years Friday night when whey seek to sweep the Rockets for the second straight season.
Toronto (36-29) has won its last three games against Houston (40-25) by an average of more than 16 points. The Rockets have been without Yao in those games, forcing Tracy McGrady to shoulder the scoring load, but the former Raptor hasn’t had enough support.
The Raptors have shown tremendous balance in those victories, placing at least five players in double figures in each of them. Rookie Andrea Bargnani’s 20 points led six Toronto players in double figures in a 106-90 victory at Houston on Feb. 28.
This time, the Raptors will have to contend with Yao. The Houston center had 40 points, shot 13-for-16 from the floor, and added 10 rebounds in his last game against Toronto, a 114-102 Rockets victory on Dec. 20, 2004.
Yao will play his seventh game since returning from a leg injury that sidelined him for more than two months. He’s averaging 18.7 points and 8.3 rebounds since coming back, well off his averages of 25.9 points and 9.4 rebounds in 27 games before the injury.
He was limited to 14 points and six rebounds in a 109-105 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday. The Rockets led by as many as 17 points in the first half, but needed to score the final four points of the game to rally for the win.
“Maybe I should say how lucky we are,” Yao said. “In the last couple of minutes, we found ourselves. We were playing strong defense and aggressive defense.”
Coach Jeff Van Gundy wasn’t happy with his team’s 38-34 deficit on the boards. The Rockets have given up 22 offensive rebounds over their last two games.
“Our reaction to the ball was non-existent rebounding-wise,” he said. “Our bigs are playing small on the boards, as well as our smalls playing small on the boards.”
McGrady played his first three seasons with the Raptors from 1997-2000, and is routinely booed when he returns. He’s averaging 31.6 points in his last five visits to Toronto.
The Atlantic Division-leading Raptors won their fourth straight game with a 104-94 victory over New York on Wednesday. Chris Bosh scored 22 points and Jorge Garbajosa added a season-high 20 for Toronto.
Point guard T.J. Ford scored 18 points and matched a career high with 18 assists. Ford is averaging 20.7 points and 13.3 assists in three games this week.
“He was just finding people left and right,” Bosh said. “When he found them, they were knocking shots down.”
The Raptors have a pair of injury concerns heading into Friday’s game. Anthony Parker suffered a sprained right ankle, although he returned to the game in the fourth quarter.
Ford’s backup, Jose Calderon, logged just five minutes before he sprained his left ankle and did not return.
Bargnani has also been a key to the winning streak, averaging 16.8 points over the last four games.