HOUSTON (AP)—Houston’s All-Star duo felt as if the Rockets were reverting to last year’s bad habits, so they did something about it.
On the plane ride back from Friday’s loss to Miami, McGrady told Yao that he thought they were trying to carry too much of the offensive load and opponents were keying on them. They were forced to do that in recent seasons, without other good offensive options.
New coach Rick Adelman has introduced an offense that was supposed to take the scoring burden off McGrady and Yao. And they were back to running it on Saturday night, getting teammates involved and running the floor for easy baskets.
“We said we have to get back to playing the type of offense we played in the beginning of the season and that’s what we did,” McGrady said of the conversation. “Tonight showed how good we can be offensively.”
Shane Battier grabbed a season-high 12 rebounds and Houston outrebounded Denver 57-38 to overcome their 17 percent shooting from 3-point range (3-for-18).
It was easily the Rockets’ best performance in two weeks.
“We talked about, after six losses in a row, we are in the wrong direction as a team,” Yao said. “We need to clear our minds and think. It starts with us, our two guys. It starts with us and then goes the rest of the team.”
“Thirty-five percent shooting speaks for itself,” said Iverson, who went 7-for-18. “They jumped right on us and they had momentum early and throughout the game.”
To make matters worse, Kenyon Martin strained his right knee late in the first half and did not return. The team said he would be evaluated in Denver on Sunday.
McGrady hit 13 of 23 shots and went 8-for-9 from the line, his best game since spraining his right elbow against the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 14. He also had five rebounds and two assists.
“Tonight was just one of those nights where I think we came out with great intensity and most importantly, we executed,” McGrady said. “I played off the ball a lot and we got Yao the ball a lot tonight. Everybody played their role.”
McGrady sat out two games with the injury, then went 11-for-39 in his first two games back. He looked comfortable from the start on Saturday, hitting four of his first six shots as the Rockets jumped to a 24-8 lead.
Later in the first quarter, Adelman went to a small, speedy lineup, with Mike James and little-used Steve Francis sharing the backcourt. Playing for just the second time this season, Francis sank two free throws and tipped in a missed shot as the Rockets stretched their lead to 34-13.
Denver, third in the league in scoring, missed 13 of its first 18 shots. The 13 points was a season-low for a quarter.
“They weren’t connecting,” Battier said. “We’ll take nights like that from a good team.”
An early sequence in the second quarter epitomized Denver’s night.
On two consecutive possessions, Anthony shot an uncontested airball from 18 feet and Iverson missed a fastbreak layup. The Rockets rebounded Iverson’s miss and James raced to the other end for an easy basket.
McGrady had 21 points at the half as the Rockets built a 58-40 lead.
The Nuggets shot 14-for-36 (39 percent) and had 12 turnovers in the half.
“They did everything they wanted to do,” Iverson said.
The Rockets’ lead swelled to 27 in the third quarter as Denver continued to miss shots and get outworked.
Denver coach George Karl benched Iverson and Anthony for the final six minutes.
Houston’s 58 first-half points was a season high. … McGrady, who missed two games last week with a sprained right elbow, wore a protective sleeve for the third straight game. … Rockets G Bonzi Wells was inactive after bruising his right ankle in Friday’s loss to Miami. … Anthony missed 12 of 20 of shots.