LOS ANGELES (AP)—Coming off one of the worst games of his career, two-time NBA scoring champion Tracy McGrady took out his frustrations against the Los Angeles Clippers and had considerable help from Yao Ming.
McGrady scored 28 points, Yao had 17 points and 12 rebounds, and the Houston Rockets routed the Clippers 128-97 Tuesday night. The 31-point win was one point shy of the Rockets’ largest winning margin ever against them.
“I was pretty focused,” McGrady said. “I told those guys I’ve been dealing with some things personally off the basketball court, so I haven’t really been myself on the court. I just wanted to come out and take all of that personal stuff and leave it off the court and try to get a win for my team.”
McGrady led Houston to a 61-49 halftime lead with 19 points, after scoring just seven in Sunday’s 90-83 win over the New York Knicks and shooting 3-for-20 from the field.
“This team’s a tough matchup for us. They just beat our butts and they outworked us,” Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. “We were nonexistent on the boards. McGrady hit a lot of rough shots to get them going. We had a lot of hands in his face, but he’s got that ability.”
The only other time the Rockets and Clippers met this season, on Dec. 17, McGrady shot 2-for-12 in the second half of an 89-81 loss.
“He was coming off a 3-for-20 game, and I had a feeling he was going to step it up and try to get it all back,” Dunleavy said. “We fell down in some coverages early against them that he got easy scores on, and that’s the worst thing you can have happen to you against a great scorer. You give him a couple of easy buckets, and after that the hard ones become easy.”
Houston shot a season-high 58.0 percent from the field, only the third time all season that the Rockets have shot at least 50 percent. All three games have resulted in road wins.
Rafer Alston had 17 points and 13 assists for the Rockets, who have won seven of their last eight games following a 5-16 slide. It was their fifth straight road victory over the Clippers and 10th in their last 11 meetings overall.
Sam Cassell scored 25 points for Los Angeles before he was ejected for arguing a foul against him late in the third quarter, and Cuttino Mobley had 23 points. Elton Brand, who will be in Houston on Sunday for his second All-Star game, scored 21 points before sitting out the fourth quarter.
The Clippers didn’t exactly come out sluggish. Brand blocked two shots by Yao on the Rockets’ first possession. He and Cassell each made their first four shots, but the Rockets took the game away from them in the second quarter.
“They came out stroking,” McGrady said. “Sam is a crafty veteran who knows how to play the game, and Elton Brand is having an MVP-type season. So we expected that out of them. But our job was to slow them down, take them out of the game and execute our offense.”
The Clippers, who are second in the Pacific Division, have lost their last two games to teams that are last in their respective divisions. Chicago beat them 97-91 on Sunday.
“It’s definitely raising some red flags,” Brand said. “This game makes that Chicago game stand out even more. We didn’t contest shots, and they really took it to us tonight. The reserves have to come in and step up and bring us some firepower and energy, because the starters didn’t have it.”
Los Angeles played two men short, having traded backup center Chris Wilcox to Seattle for forward Vladimir Radmanovic a few hours before gametime. Quinton Ross, who sat out the second half of Sunday’s win over Chicago, also wasn’t available after a precautionary MRI on Monday revealed inflammation around a disc in his back.
The Rockets scored at least 30 points in every quarter, burning the Clippers time and time again in the third with a barrage of long-range perimeter shots. Cassell couldn’t take anymore of it and vented his frustration at referee Eli Roe, who gave him two technical fouls after Cassell fouled Stromile Swift with 37.8 seconds left in the third and Houston ahead 91-74.
“I was getting ready to take him out anyway, because we’ve got to play again tomorrow night,” Dunleavy said. “So maybe it was better for him to get his frustrations out that way.”
The Clippers play at Golden State Tuesday night, trying to complete their second straight four-game season sweep of the Warriors. The only other teams the Clippers have accomplished that feat against were Denver, Minnesota and Dallas. … The Rockets and Clippers came in as the league’s top two teams in field goal percentage defense and fewest fast-break points allowed per game.