If not for a season-ending injury to their leading scorer and rebounder, the Houston Rockets would have had a perfect February.
March could be a little different.
After blowing out weak opponents in their first two games without All-Star center Yao Ming to cap a 13-0 February, the Rockets face a tougher challenge as they host the Denver Nuggets on Sunday in search of their franchise record-tying 15th straight win.
Houston (38-20) started its current streak by beating Golden State on Jan. 29. The Rockets went on to sweep all 13 of their games in February, including lopsided victories over short-handed Washington and struggling Memphis after learning that Yao would miss the rest of the season and the playoffs with a stress fracture in his left foot.
“It’s great. It was a short term goal of ours and we accomplished that,” Rockets guard Tracy McGrady said after Houston capped its undefeated month with a 116-95 win over Memphis on Friday. “But despite our sweeping February, we still can’t be overconfident. We’ve got an (offensive-minded) team coming in here Sunday and we’ve got to keep it going.”
With the longest win streak in the NBA this season, Houston is one victory shy of its franchise-record 15-game run, set Feb. 13-March 18, 1993 and matched by opening the 1993-94 season 15-0 en route to its first NBA championship.
“Well, amazing things happen when you have two things: a system and a belief,” forward Shane Battier told the Rockets’ official Web site. “We believe that we have a great system with talent and coaching and we believe in each other.
“We don’t listen to any of the naysayers out there that are telling us that our season is over because Yao is out. We believe in each other and as long as we continue to do that we’ll be OK.”
However, the Rockets have defeated only one of the six teams currently ahead of them in the Western Conference standings during their win streak. They could have a tougher time this month, during which they have six games against those top six teams, as well as one against league-best Boston.
That doesn’t include this meeting with the Nuggets (35-23), who are currently in ninth place in the West and hoping to take advantage of Yao’s injury to get back into the playoff picture.
Denver lost three straight games Feb. 22-25, but has bounced back with consecutive wins. Carmelo Anthony had 30 points, 14 rebounds and six assists in the team’s 110-104 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night.
“When he puts his mind to it, he can do anything on the basketball court,” said teammate Allen Iverson, who added 38 points. “He can dominate in every aspect. Rebounding, that’s all effort. When Melo gets down low and starts banging with those guys, it’s hard for people to defend him.”
Iverson is averaging 30.4 points and shooting 53.1 percent (51-for-96) from the field in his last five games.
He and Anthony had 36 and 37 points, respectively, against the Rockets in the Nuggets’ 112-111 double-overtime win on Dec. 20. Anthony Carter, however, was the hero of the game after he sank a go-ahead floater in the lane with 0.8 seconds remaining to seal the win.
Yao had 26 points, 19 rebounds and six assists in that game to lead the Rockets, who were playing without McGrady because of a left knee injury.
McGrady shot 34.7 percent in three games against the Nuggets last season, but went 13-for-23 and had 35 points against them in the teams’ first meeting Nov. 24—a 109-81 Rockets win.
Denver and Houston close the season series April 13 in Denver.