The Rockets hope their “team” mentality - and a return home - can help them improve to 12-2 since losing the seven-time All-Star when they host the slumping Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.
McGrady underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee last month after chronic pain caused him to miss 17 of the first 52 games. The Rockets (42-23) managed to win 11 of those contests without the swingman, and they’ve already matched that total since he last played in a 124-112 loss at Milwaukee on Feb. 9.
Houston won its third straight Monday, 97-95 at Denver behind 22 points from Artest.
“We’re going to win together or lose together,” Artest said. “I’m not winning this thing by myself. (Yao Ming’s) not going to win by himself. You’re either going to win with your team or lose with your team. It took a lot of years to understand that. But that’s how it’s going to be.”
Artest has been instrumental in spurring the Rockets’ impressive run, averaging a team-high 20.4 points while shooting 48.5 percent in starting all 13 games for McGrady. Prior to the stretch, Artest averaged 15.8 points on 38.4 percent from the floor in 39 games.
The Rockets, second in the Southwest Division and third in the Western Conference, hope the veteran swingman can continue his hot play as they look to extend their season-high home winning streak to 13 in a timely meeting with the NBA-leading Lakers (50-13).
Houston, though, has dropped both of this season’s matchups against Los Angeles, including 105-100 at the Toyota Center on Jan. 13. Artest missed that game with a sprained right ankle.
The Lakers have dropped three of their last five with all of those defeats coming as the visitor. They seek to avoid a season-high fourth straight loss away from home after scoring a season-low 38 first-half points in Monday’s 111-94 defeat at Portland.
“We have to respect our opponent and play them like they’re Boston or Cleveland,” forward Lamar Odom said. “They play us like we’re a tough team, or one of the best teams in the league, so why not play against every team like that? It would be smart for us to do.”
Despite their recent troubles, the Lakers lead the conference with a 21-9 road record.
Kobe Bryant, one of the league’s top scorers with 28.0 points per game, is looking to rebound from a sub-par shooting performance. He went 11-for-29 (37.9 percent) and scored 26 against the Trail Blazers after averaging 34.2 points on 48.7 percent shooting over the previous three games.
Bryant’s averaging 34.7 points over the last six games against the Rockets.