Each coming off a close loss to one of the top teams in the NBA, the Rockets and Kings square off for the second time in nine days Saturday night in Houston.
The Rockets came into this season with stars Tracy McGrady(notes) and Yao Ming(notes) each recovering from major surgery. Their top returning scorer is Luis Scola(notes), who averaged 12.7 points in 2008-09.
Despite its inexperienced and relatively anonymous lineup, Houston (7-6) has remained competitive. It has the second-best record in the Southwest Division, and despite a tough early schedule has only lost by a double-digit margin once - 121-103 at Dallas on Nov. 10.
Without Martin, the Kings have relied heavily on Tyreke Evans(notes), the fourth overall pick in June’s draft. The 20-year-old point guard came up big again Friday night, scoring 29 points with seven rebounds and 10 assists to keep Sacramento close in a 104-102 loss at the Southwest-leading Mavericks.
“To come in here and have a chance to knock off Dallas and play them the way we did, I was very impressed with our young group,” first-year Kings coach Paul Westphal said. “When we learn to take care of the ball a little bit better, I think we’ll come our with our share of wins in these types of games.”
Houston is also hoping to rebound from a narrow loss. The Rockets overcame a 10-point deficit with 2:07 remaining to pull into a tie with league-best Atlanta on Friday night, but Josh Smith(notes) made a putback with 0.7 seconds left to send Houston to a 105-103 defeat.
“The guys battled back, but we had a bad stretch in the fourth quarter and it cost us,” said coach Rick Adelman, who coached the Kings from 1998-2006, and remains their franchise leader with 395 wins.
The Rockets hit a similar rough patch in the second quarter against the Kings on Nov. 13. They were outscored 33-22 in the period en route to a 109-100 loss in Sacramento. Jason Thompson(notes) led the Kings with a career-high 27 points and 11 rebounds, Evans had 20 points, six rebounds and four assists, and Beno Udrih(notes) added 22 points.
The Rockets also had three players score at least 20 points in that game, with Trevor Ariza(notes), Shane Battier(notes) and Scola combining for 71. However, Houston shot 41.6 percent from the field and made only eight of its 27 3-point attempts (29.6 percent).
The Rockets are shooting 39.9 percent from beyond the arc in their seven wins and 30.0 percent in their six losses.
McGrady thinks he can step in and make a difference for Houston immediately, but the team isn’t as convinced. McGrady insists he’s fully recovered from microfracture surgery on his left knee and that he could return to play the Kings. The Rockets believe the seven-time All-Star needs more time and would risk hurting his knee again if he comes back too soon. The next step is an MRI on Monday.
“We have a difference of opinion,” Adelman said. “He wants to play. He’s not ready to play. It’s as simple as that.”
The Kings, losers of four of five on the road this season, have dropped five straight in Houston.