The Rockets have lost ground in the Western Conference playoff race, but getting McGrady healthy is their primary concern as they continue their march toward the postseason with a home game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday.
McGrady went 0-for-3 in seven minutes before being pulled from the Rockets’ 110-99 loss to Golden State on Wednesday. The team called his injury a “stiff lower back.” McGrady, who missed 35 games last season and eight games so far this season with back trouble, doesn’t appear likely to make a quick return, and there is a chance the seven-time All-Star could wait until closer to the playoffs to rejoin the Rockets (47-28), who have already clinched a postseason berth.
“We’re in the playoffs,” McGrady said. “There’s no question we’re in. I’m not going to try to rush back at all until I’m ready.”
With McGrady sidelined, the Rockets will likely funnel their offense through center and leading scorer Yao Ming, who averages 24.7 points. Yao though, struggled on Wednesday and finished with only nine points—his lowest output in a full game this season—while being swarmed by Golden State’s smaller defenders.
Luther Head, however, returned from a two-game absence with a shoulder injury to score a career-high 30 points, making 7-of-9 from 3-point range and 10-of-13 overall. Head may need to continue his hot shooting Friday to help space the floor for Yao and prevent the Rockets from losing three straight games for the first time since Jan. 16-20.
Their back-to-back losses have dropped them 1 1/2 games behind fourth-place Utah in the race for home-court advantage in the opening round.
The Blazers, though, did the Rockets a favor on Wednesday, defeating Utah 94-89 to snap their four-game losing streak.
Rookie of the Year candidate Brandon Roy scored 25 of his season-high 29 points in the second half and the Blazers (30-44) outscored Utah 27-15 in the third quarter to take control of the game.
In two games without Portland’s leading scorer Zach Randolph—who will miss the rest of the season with a hand injury—Roy has shot 58.6 percent and scored 52 points.
“As long as I’m on the court, I’m going to keep trying to hurt that (NBA Draft) lottery selection,” Roy said. “I’m playing to win.”
Though Portland is on the verge of being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, the Blazers will have plenty of chances to play spoiler with seven games remaining against the top nine teams in the West, including two against the Rockets.
“If you go out and play hard every night, and you play together, and you meet the challenge, you win games,” coach Nate McMillan said.
The Rockets and the Blazers have split two meetings. Houston held Portland to a season-low 69 points and a season-low 36.1 field-goal percentage in a 99-69 rout on Jan. 26.