AUBURN HILLS, Michigan, Jan. 22 (Ticker) -- The Houston Rockets are clearly a better team when they have Tracy McGrady. But they are not better than the Detroit Pistons.

The league-leading Pistons were pushed for one of the few times this season but barely held on for a 99-97 victory over the Rockets, who wasted a season-high 43 points from McGrady.

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Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton scored 24 points apiece for the Pistons (33-5), who won their seventh straight game. But McGrady certainly made it difficult.

"We definitely felt like we let this one get away, although that is a great team," McGrady said. "We had a chance to win the ballgame. It just didn't go our way tonight. We're going to keep our heads high and know this is the way we should play, night in and night out."

A perennial All-Star and two-time scoring champion, McGrady has missed 13 games this season with a lingering back ailment. The Rockets (13-26) have lost them all to drop into last place in the Southwest Division.

However, McGrady returned to score 35 points in Friday's double-overtime win at Chicago that ended a seven-game slide. He was even better against Detroit, making 17-of-33 shots and 7-of-8 free throws as he became the first player this season to score at least 40 points against the Pistons.

"They're a different team with Tracy," Detroit coach Flip Saunders said. "He was phenomenal tonight. At times, even before we could try and get to him to trap, he was shooting it, he was on fire."

Behind their superstar, the Rockets held an 88-87 lead with less than seven minutes to go before the Pistons got a 3-pointer from Maurice Evans and a turnaround jumper from Rasheed Wallace to take the lead for good.

With 3:44 to go, McGrady went around and over several defenders for a driving layup. Billups answered with a hoop for a 94-90 lead.

"They don't need a player like me because all those guys, their starting five is just a hell of a five," McGrady said. "Everybody over there plays their part, they know their roles and nobody tries to do too much over there. They just play together as a team."

At the 1:10 mark, McGrady again scored on a drive but came up a couple inches short as Rasheed Wallace found Ben Wallace for an alley-oop dunk and a 98-94 advantage.

"The play that Rasheed made, the lob pass to Ben Wallace, there's about 1 percent of the players in this league that might make that play," Saunders said. "Sometimes you're going to win them, sometimes you're going to lose them but you can't be afraid to try and make it."

On the next possession, McGrady missed a jumper. But the Rockets got back the ball and McGrady threw a perfect behind-the-back pass to rookie Luther Head, who drilled a 3-pointer to make it 98-97 with 10 seconds to play.

Hamilton split two free throws, giving Houston a chance to tie or win. McGrady was double-teamed and again found Head, whose 3-pointer bounced high off the rim. Juwan Howard's tip attempt also missed and time expired.

"It's no big thing to us," Rasheed Wallace said. "We've been there and done that. It's nothing that we shake in our boots about if it's a close game with a minute left or anything under a minute."

Ben Wallace had 13 points and 15 rebounds and Evans and Rasheed Wallace scored 11 points each for Detroit, which swept the season series.

"They came in and played good," Billups said. "I mean, they are a real disciplined ballclub and they play good defense. They got T-Mac, which can't hurt, especially when he had it cooking like that, but it was a good game."

Howard had 16 points and 12 rebounds and Rafer Alston scored 13 points for Houston, which limited Detroit to 40.5 percent (30-of-74) shooting but permitted 40 free throws.

"There are some things we could have done better, I think, that could have changed the result," Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "Our guys are competitive and are playing a lot more minutes than they probably should. There's a lot of things that we can be proud of."