Since returning last week from a knee injury last week, Tracy McGrady hasn’t quite played at the level the Houston Rockets are used to seeing. But as long as they keep winning, they aren’t about to complain.
Houston (24-19) looks to win five straight for the second time this month on Sunday night when it hosts the Utah Jazz, who are looking for their fourth straight win.
This is the first meeting between the teams at the Toyota Center since Utah beat the Rockets 103-99 in Game 7 of their first round Western Conference playoff series last spring.
McGrady missed 11 games with a sore left knee after injuring it against Detroit on Dec. 23, but the Rockets still went 7-4 without their All-Star guard.
Since coming back on Jan. 19, however, Houston is 4-0 with McGrady playing an unfamiliar role as a reserve. McGrady hadn’t come off the bench since April 5, 2003 when he played for Orlando, but has been effective in his temporary role — averaging 17.3 points and seeing his minutes increase each game.
He played 36 minutes in Houston’s latest win, 89-79 at Portland on Friday to stop the Trail Blazers’ 12-game home winning streak. Rockets reserves scored 55 points, including 15 from McGrady.
“It’s a great tribute to our group … I think we’ve found ourselves.” McGrady said.
Besides McGrady, Houston also has gotten production from some unlikely sources, including rookie Carl Landry. A second-round pick from Purdue, Landry has become a key contributor recently. He’s averaged 8.6 points and has made 25-of-28 shots (89.3 percent) in his last seven games.
“One thing about our young guys - they aren’t afraid,” McGrady said.
McGrady scored a season-high 47 points in the Rockets’ first meeting with the Jazz this season, a 106-95 win on Nov. 1. He’s scored at least 43 four times against the Jazz in his career.
Utah (25-18) has won three straight and seven of its last eight, but six of those wins have been at home. The Jazz are 18-3 on at home but just 7-15 on the road.
From Dec. 4-Jan. 17, Utah went 1-11 on the road, allowing an average of 108.8 points. They won their most recent road game convincingly, however, beating the Los Angeles Clippers 109-93 on Monday.
They followed that win by shooting 57.7 percent from the field in a 127-113 win over Sacramento on Friday.
“It was a great game because everybody contributed really well,” said Jazz forward Carlos Boozer, who had 33 points on 15-of-19 shooting and 10 rebounds. “When we get that kind of playing, we’re a pretty good team to play.”
Boozer had 30 points and 16 rebounds in the loss to Houston earlier this season.
Utah also got a season-high 25 points, six assists, six rebounds and four blocks from Andrei Kirilenko, who failed to score in his previous game.
Jazz guard Deron Williams, fourth in the NBA with 9.3 assists per game, is averaging 19.9 points and 11.0 assists in his previous seven games.