Wafer and Cook look to build on the highest-scoring games of their respective careers as the Rockets and Heat square off in Houston on Saturday night.
McGrady is out at least two weeks to fully recuperate from a sore left knee that’s bothered him for months, and Artest is expected to be sidelined about a week with a nagging ankle injury. Wafer’s presence, though, has lessened the blow for the injury-plagued Rockets (24-16).
Wafer scored 18 points in 12 minutes off the bench Jan. 2, and Rockets coach Rick Adelman rewarded him by putting him in the starting lineup the next day. In six starts since, the 6-foot-5 guard is averaging 15.8 points while shooting 54.3 percent (38-for-70) from the field, including 48.3 percent (14-for-29) from 3-point range.
Wafer scored a career-high 23 points Tuesday night, going 10-for-14 from the field and 3-for-4 from behind the arc to help the Rockets stay close in their 105-100 home loss to the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers.
“I’m just getting into a rhythm out there,” said Wafer, who’s spent time with five different teams since the Lakers drafted him in the second round in 2005. “I’m just getting my legs more and more under me. It’s just good to do all that I can while I’m out there and hopefully, I can get a chance to stay out there.”
Cook may have also earned some additional playing time with his performance in Miami’s 102-99 win over Milwaukee on Wednesday night. The second-year guard went 7-for-11 from the field and 6-for-8 from 3-point range en route to a career-high 24 points. He also went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in the final 21 seconds to help seal the victory.
“It was a great shooting display,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He can go on runs in practice where he just does not miss.”
Cook, who had reached 20 points only once previously this season, was held scoreless on 0-for-3 shooting in 11-plus minutes of his previous game, prompting some of his teammates to question if he even played in the 99-96 win over Minnesota on Tuesday.
“He came back and shut all of us up,” said Wade, who was 5-for-20 Wednesday.
Cook took his teammates’ ribbing in stride, then responded with the best game of his career.
“I came out with a different mind-set,” he said. “It kept me focused.”
Cook’s outing helped Miami improve to 3-2 in the first five games of a season-high seven-game road trip that finishes Sunday in Oklahoma City.
Houston, meanwhile, had a three-game win streak snapped with its loss to Los Angeles. Despite the defeat, the Rockets took a lot away from playing the defending Western Conference champs so closely without McGrady and Artest.
“We played so hard,” forward Shane Battier told the Rockets’ official Web site. “We played together and competed. If we play like that then we will have a lot of victories in the future.”
The Rockets won their first meeting with the Heat 107-98 in Miami on Nov. 24. Rockets center Yao Ming had 28 points and 12 rebounds in that game, while Wade and rookie point guard Mario Chalmers led Miami with 28 points apiece.
Wafer didn’t make an appearance in that game, while Cook had two points in 11 minutes off the bench.