Yao, McGrady Lead Rockets Past Clippers
Houston 106, L.A. Clippers 102
HOUSTON, Feb. 22 (Ticker) -- The Houston Rockets are hoping that there are enough games left for Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady to lift them into the postseason.
Yao scored 29 points and McGrady added 26 as the Rockets began their push for the postseason with a 106-102 victory over the slumping Los Angeles Clippers.
Both Yao and McGrady have been sidelined with injuries this season. The Rockets are 5-16 without Yao and 0-13 without McGrady. As a result, Houston is 4 1/2 games and five teams behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
When the All-Stars have been together, the Rockets have clicked. Wednesday's win improved Houston to 17-8 when both Yao and McGrady are in the lineup.
"We had good chemistry last year and early this year," said Yao, who was coming off a six-point, one-rebound performance in a blowout loss to Phoenix before the All-Star break. "We both missed so many games. But I feel it coming back."
The 7-6 Yao was virtually unstoppable, making 11-of-16 shots and pulling down 15 rebounds, one off his season high. He also blocked a pair of shots.
"(Yao) has been playing out of his mind," McGrady said. "Since he's been back, he's been extremely aggressive, and he's playing with a great deal of confidence."
It may be fun for McGrady to watch his post man, but Clippers center Chris Kaman, who drew the defensive assignment, said Yao is a tough matchup for anyone.
"He's a freak of nature," Kaman said. "If he gets close to the basket it's impossible to stop him."
McGrady, who scored 36 points in Sunday's All-Star Game, made 9-of-23 shots and added five assists and two blocks. He scored nine of Houston's last 11 points in a 29-7 surge in the second quarter that gave Houston the lead for good.
"They're (Yao and McGrady) very important," Rockets point guard Rafer Alston said. "Our key is to get them in the game, and then keep them going. They make a lot of plays and keep the defense honest."
"We know how good we are together," McGrady added. "We showed it last year. It's been disappointing with the injuries in the first half. But we can't do anything about that now.
"Now that we have both of us back, we are playing extremely well. In the remaining 28 games we have left, we're definitely going to try to win a significant amount and make a push for the playoffs."
The Clippers were within 94-88 with 4:31 remaining after two free throws by Elton Brand, who had 32 points and 12 rebounds. Yao made a free throw, McGrady made two and answered a basket by former Rocket Cuttino Mobley by putting home a lob pass for a 99-90 lead with 3:18 remaining.
McGrady blocked a drive by Shaun Livingston, leading directly to a breakaway layup by Keith Bogans that gave Houston a 103-92 advantage with 2:22 to go.
Alston had nine points and 11 assists for the Rockets, who improved to 11-1 when scoring at least 100 points. They have won 11 of their last 12 meetings with the Clippers.
"We've got 17 of (our last) 29 games at home, and we've got to win those," Alston said. "We've let some get away from us at Toyota Center."
Mobley scored 30 points for Los Angeles, which has dropped a season-high five straight games.
The Clippers trailed, 59-45, at halftime. They closed to 80-76 entering the fourth quarter but got no closer until the final minute.
"We have to decide if we want to be a very good team or a great team," Brand said. "We've shown the talent at times, but we have to learn to do it for the entire game."
Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. echoed Brand's sentiments.
"Our guys have to decide what they really want," he said. "They have to learn how to play good to beat the good teams or we will come up short."