Rockets 104, Bobcats 83
Getting the decisive 104-83 win Saturday night after trailing by 11 points early is a sign of maturity, said Howard, who scored 16 points.
And on the subject of maturity, the team also got a boost from its 40-year-old center Dikembe Mutombo. Playing in place of the injured Yao Ming, Mutombo had a season-high 14 points, added 14 rebounds and had four steals.
As the Rockets missed shot after shot early on, it looked as if maybe they were still suffering from Friday’s 95-74 loss to the Mavericks—their largest defeat of the season. But they quickly got going and built a 14-point lead by halftime and didn’t trail again.
“We didn’t play well at all last night and we knew we had to bounce back against a young, athletic, tough team,” Howard said. “They came out and got after us early. It was good to see as professionals we kept our poise and responded.”
Tracy McGrady had 16 points and Rafer Alston added 14 and had a career-high nine steals for Houston. Alston’s steals are the second most in team history and the team’s 20 steals are also the second best in franchise history.
“It shows that I can play some defense,” Alston said of his steals. “It shows that I can really put a lot of energy on the defensive side of the ball and be all over the place out there.”
McGrady scored Houston’s first seven points in the third quarter to extend a big halftime lead to 67-50. Alston’s behind-the-back fake before a layup early in the fourth quarter extended Houston’s lead to 86-66. He flashed a smile at the crowd after the shot, eliciting the biggest cheers of the night.
A nifty alley-oop pass and dunk from Luther Head to Kirk Snyder near the end of the game that pushed Houston past the 100-point mark got the crowd into it again. Head and Snyder combined for 32 points.
But it was Mutombo who was most impressive as he continues to overachieve while filling in for Yao, who missed his 23rd straight game as he recovers from a broken right leg.
“To see how he’s grinding through these games and these minutes against front-line players is inspiring,” Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said.
Charlotte coach Bernie Bickerstaff agreed.
“The big guy still understands the game and who he is,” Bickerstaff said. “He gets to the paint and he knows how to pay off when he is inside. I’m so proud of the years he has put in. His durability and understanding of the game is amazing.”
The Rockets missed their first nine shots before McGrady’s driving layup with 7:33 remaining in the first quarter. His free throw after a foul on that shot cut Charlotte’s lead to 13-5.
Felton’s 3 pushed the lead to 16-5 before Houston went on a 17-6 run to tie it at 22. Chuck Hayes hit two free throws at the end of the first quarter to give Houston a 29-28 lead and the Rockets never trailed again.
Felton, who is 18 years Mutombo’s junior, almost couldn’t believe the big-man’s production.
“For a guy to be his age and playing like he is, it is just amazing,” Felton said. “He takes care of his body and uses his IQ and what he knows about the game to his advantage.”
Houston outscored Charlotte 10-2 in the opening minutes of the second quarter to stretch its lead to nine and led 60-46 at halftime.
A bit of excitement in this otherwise lackluster game came near the end of the first half when Gerald Wallace and Howard got their arms tangled up after a basket by Wallace and both were given a technical foul.
The Rockets shot 45 percent Saturday after shooting a season-low 33 percent against Dallas.
The Rockets were also without Bonzi Wells, who missed his second game with a sore lower back. … Okafor had his 31st double-double of the season … Charlotte’s Derek Anderson missed his fourth consecutive game with a sprained right ankle. … Felton tied his career high by making four 3-pointers.