Knicks-Rockets Preview

The Associated Press

The Houston Rockets are one of the hottest teams in the NBA, and Kevin Martin's absence hasn't cooled them.

The New York Knicks are slumping, and playing without Carmelo Anthony only makes matters worse.

With Martin's status clouded, the Rockets attempt to take advantage of Anthony's absence and win for the ninth time in 10 games when they host the struggling Knicks on Saturday night.

Houston (11-8) is averaging 102.8 points during an 8-1 run, making a 3-7 start to the season an increasingly distant memory. Martin missed Friday's home game against Washington due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot, but the Rockets didn't miss a beat and routed the Wizards 103-76.

Houston's top scorer at 20.1 points per game, Martin is averaging 29.3 over his last four games overall, and 28.1 the last seven times he's faced the Knicks (7-12).

If Martin is unable to return, Chase Budinger would likely increased playing time again. Budinger took advantage of the opportunity Friday, scoring a season-high 21 points and adding eight rebounds while sinking 4 of 6 3-pointers after not having appeared in the three previous games.

"You just have to be professional," Budinger said, "and just be ready and wait for the opportunity like I did. I like to play, I like to be out there on the court with my teammates. It really just comes down to what the coach wants."

As coach Kevin McHale has been trying to tighten Houston's rotation, Budinger was an odd man out after averaging 7.1 points through the first 15 games.

"I told him that in our league, a lot of times, things just happen," McHale said. "He stayed ready and he's a professional man."

Luis Scola, averaging 15.6 points, also saw an increase in production without Martin available, getting 19 points, eight rebounds and three assists against the Wizards.

McHale may not feel the need to rush Martin back, given that the Rockets have won 12 of their last 13 against the Knicks. That includes a six-game home winning streak, during which Houston has held New York to an average of 88.2 points.

Losers of eight of nine overall, the Knicks now must also take the court without Anthony - their leading scorer at 23.6 points per game - who will miss a second straight contest with ankle, thumb and wrist injuries.

The Knicks are trying to salvage a split of a four-game road trip after falling 99-89 at Miami on Friday. They tried to compensate for Anthony's absence by taking more shots from beyond the arc, going 18 for 43 - the second-most 3-point attempts in franchise history.

"We shot a lot of 3's, but we did hit a bunch of them, which kept us in there," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We just couldn't sustain it all the way through."

Similar to Budinger's situation with Houston, Bill Walker may get a second chance to capitalize on the absence of a star.

Walker played a season high of more than 31 minutes Friday, scoring a season-high 21 points - all on a 7-for-10 effort from 3-point range - and adding seven rebounds. He's averaging just 6.1 points on the season, and had just three while missing 5 of 6 from the floor in his only start, a 104-92 loss at Oklahoma City on Jan. 14.

Amar'e Stoudemire had 25 points in each of last season's two meetings with the Rockets, which both ended in New York defeats. He's averaging 28.2 points over his last six games against Houston.

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