No team has played more road games than the Houston Rockets, and after the start of their recent five-game trip, it looked like they couldn’t wait to get back home.
Now they’ll do so with some momentum.
After snapping a five-game road slide with a pair of wins, the Rockets return to the Toyota Center on Saturday night to kick off a five-game homestand against the last-place New York Knicks.
Houston (23-15) has been dealing with nagging injuries to Tracy McGrady (knee) and Ron Artest (ankle) throughout the first two months of the season, and those came into play again during its recent swing.
Both played in a blowout loss at Toronto, then sat the next night in a tight defeat in Atlanta. Artest remained sidelined in a loss at Philadelphia on Tuesday while McGrady returned, and the two then reversed roles the next night in Boston.
Artest came up big, scoring 17 points in 30 minutes against the defending champions, while Yao Ming scored 26 in an 89-85 victory.
It was Artest’s turn to rest again on Friday in Oklahoma City, and this time McGrady stepped up. He scored 26 points, his highest total since going for 27 in Phoenix on Nov. 12, and the Rockets held off the Thunder 98-96 despite blowing a 15-point lead.
“We needed to get this win,” coach Rick Adelman said. “It’s the end of this trip and it’s been a long trip.”
Adelman said McGrady will rest his sore knee against the Knicks. Artest’s status is unclear.
One of the reasons Houston was able to close its trip successfully was the play of reserve Aaron Brooks. After scoring 19 points in Boston, Brooks had 12 on Friday - 10 in the second quarter when the Rockets outscored Oklahoma City 29-16.
Brooks is averaging 14.6 points in Houston’s eight wins since Dec. 13 and 6.1 points in their seven losses over that span.
The Knicks (13-21) also have a win over the Celtics to their credit in the past week, but they’ve kicked off a four-game road trip with a pair of losses.
New York is shooting 43.4 percent from the field - worst in the Eastern Conference - and a lack of accuracy plagued them in Oklahoma City and Dallas. The Knicks shot 39.8 percent in a 107-99 loss to the Thunder on Tuesday, then made 41.6 percent of their shots - 25.0 percent in the fourth - on Thursday in a 99-94 loss to the Mavericks.
“They’re playing about as hard as they can play and giving ourselves a chance to win,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We just haven’t done it yet.”
The play of two starters along the front line has been encouraging even as New York has lost nine of 11. David Lee has seven consecutive double-doubles and 24 this season, ranking third in the NBA. He’s averaging 16.0 points and 13.4 rebounds in his last 12 games.
Wilson Chandler is averaging 14.7 points, and has become a go-to scorer recently. He had 20 in Dallas and is averaging 18.6 points over his last seven contests.
The front line got a boost in Dallas with the return of center Eddy Curry, who missed the first 33 games with a knee injury. Curry, being brought along slowly, had two points and two rebounds in less than three minutes of action.
The Rockets, who have played 23 road games as opposed to 15 at home, have won six straight against the Knicks, and seven in a row with Yao in the lineup. The 7-foot-6 center is averaging 31.8 points in his last four games versus New York.