The one-time superstar faces his former team for the first time since his departure and tries to help the New York Knicks deal the Rockets a blow to their slim playoff hopes Sunday.
McGrady was the face of the Houston franchise after arriving in 2004 before injuries slowed him in recent years. After undergoing microfracture surgery on his left knee last season, which limited him to 35 games, the Rockets (35-32) were cautious with his playing time - to the displeasure of McGrady. He played minimal minutes in six games before being granted a leave from the team, last playing for Houston on Dec. 23.
McGrady insisted on his personal Web site that there were no hard feelings.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself from various situations, both good and bad that have occurred here,” McGrady wrote. “It was my hope when I came to Houston that I wouldn’t leave, but I do understand this is the business side of basketball.”
While McGrady’s departure took care of one high-profile problem, Houston still remains 5 1/2 games behind Portland for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Rockets have reached the postseason the last three years, and in 2009, won their first playoff series since 1997.
Houston has been playing better recently, although it lost 94-87 to Boston on Friday. The Rockets won their previous four games, averaging 111.0 points, but they shot 39.5 percent against the Celtics and leading scorer Aaron Brooks(notes) was held to 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting.
Brooks scored 31 points in each of the previous two games.
“The vast majority of our games … when Aaron’s hitting shots, we win,” forward Shane Battier(notes) said. “And if he struggles to get shots and open looks, we usually have trouble scoring points and we usually lose. … Our challenge is to get Kevin Martin and Aaron open looks off our movement.”
Brooks scored 20 points in a 105-96 win over the Knicks (25-44) on Jan. 9. The Rockets have won nine of 10 between the teams, but lost their most recent trip to Madison Square Garden last season.
McGrady will certainly be looking for a better performance than he had in a 92-88 win over Philadelphia on Friday. He was scoreless in 29 minutes, shooting 0 for 7.
Despite McGrady struggling and David Lee(notes) (knee) and Wilson Chandler(notes) (groin) sitting out, the Knicks won for the third time in four games. They shot 36.8 percent and scored 15 points in the first and third quarters, but received a lift from rookie Toney Douglas(notes), who scored 22.
Douglas has averaged 18.6 points in the last five games, starting the last four.
“He was terrific. Mostly defense is heart and brains, and he has both. A good combo and he’s quick,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “The biggest thing is he wants to do it. When you put your mind to it like he does and he’s always ready, good things happen.”