The Houston Rockets were desperate for answers during their six-game losing streak. They finally got some from two familiar sources.
After leading the Rockets to their first victory in nearly two weeks, Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming look to continue to help their team regain its early season form when Houston visits the injury-plagued Los Angeles Clippers on Monday.
First-year Rockets coach Rick Adelman won six of his first seven games as Houston kept pace in the Southwest Division with powerhouses Dallas and San Antonio, which have combined to win every Southwest title since realignment before the 2004-05 season.
The Rockets (7-7), however, saw that early battle fizzle as they dropped six straight - their longest losing streak since a seven-game skid from Jan. 6-18, 2006.
After McGrady and Yao met on the flight from Miami following a loss to the Heat on Friday, the two stars finally ended the drought by leading the Rockets to a 109-81 victory over Denver the next night.
“We talked about, after six losses in a row, we are in the wrong direction as a team,” Yao said of his conversation with McGrady. “We need to clear our minds and think. It starts with us, our two guys. It starts with us and then goes the rest of the team.”
Yao had 22 points and 13 rebounds, while McGrady had 35 points and shot 13-for-23 from the field. McGrady went 13-for-39 in his previous two games, partly because he was still recovering from a strained elbow that forced him to miss the previous two contests.
“We said we have to get back to playing the type of offense we played in the beginning of the season and that’s what we did,” McGrady said after Houston recorded a season-high point total. “Tonight showed how good we can be offensively.”
The Rockets, opening a four-game road trip, will try to get back over .500 when they face a Clippers team that’s struggling because of injuries to several key players.
Without Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Shaun Livingston and Brevin Knight on Saturday, Los Angeles (6-6) lost for the sixth time in eight games after a 4-0 start. The Clippers shot 40.0 percent from the floor and trailed by as many as 15 in a 98-89 defeat to New Orleans.
“You can’t get down by 15 points like we did in the second half,” said Clippers point guard Sam Cassell, who won NBA titles with the Rockets in his first two seasons in 1994 and ’95. “You have to play mistake-free basketball when you get down by that many points, and we didn’t do it.”
Brand (Achilles’ tendon surgery) and Livingston (knee surgery) are expected to miss at least a few more months. Maggette (hamstring) and Knight (groin) are day-to-day.
Starting shooting guard Cuttino Mobley has also been bothered by a groin injury, but had a team-high 20 points in Saturday’s loss while playing through pain.
“I was always a guy who never quit,” said Mobley, another former Rocket who played his first six seasons with Houston. “You play with injuries. It’s as simple as that. Some guys don’t, and that’s testing their manhood. But some people have higher pain tolerance, and I’m one of those guys.”
Mobley is averaging 18.3 points in 10 games against his former club, but was held to 13.5 in four games against Houston last season.
The Rockets won three of those, including both meetings with the Clippers at Staples Center.