Daily Confidential

Yao Ming believes the Houston Rockets are deep enough this season to better handle a lengthy absence of Tracy McGrady.

After showing evidence of that depth, the Rockets look to prove they can win without one of their biggest stars when they take on the inconsistent Golden State Warriors on Thursday at Oracle Arena.

McGrady is sidelined indefinitely due to back spasms, and sat out Tuesday night's 102-94 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Luther Head started at guard in place of the six-time All-Star and scored 21 points, including four 3-pointers on eight attempts.

Yao had 26 points to lead the Rockets (14-7), but they scored just 13 points in the third quarter and could never recover from a 27-point deficit.

``I thought we weren't as strong mentally as we could have been, when it was not going well for us,'' Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said.

McGrady missed 35 games last season, most related to back problems. Houston went 7-28 without him, but Yao indicated before Tuesday's loss that he thinks this year's team is better equipped to cope.

``I believe we're more prepared because this is a different team,'' Yao told the team's Web site. ``Last year, when Tracy was out, we didn't have Rafer Alston because he was injured and we didn't have Shane Battier. I think this is a totally different team.''

Like Houston, Golden State (11-11) is trying to find a way to win despite injuries.

The Warriors, who are playing without Jason Richardson (bruised knee) and Troy Murphy (sore foot), are coming off a 126-113 win over the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday. It was only the fourth win in 12 games for Golden State after opening the season 7-3.

Matt Barnes had 32 points and 11 rebounds - both career highs - to lead six Warriors in double figures. Mickael Pietrus had 21 points, Andris Biedrins and Mike Dunleavy added 20 apiece, Monta Ellis scored 16 and Baron Davis chipped in 14.

``We had six guys in double figures, and we needed it,'' coach Don Nelson said.

Barnes, who is averaging just 8.6 points this season and has only started five games, appears to be breaking out. He scored 20 points in Sunday's loss to Seattle, and went 6 of 9 from 3-point range on Tuesday.

``I'm very happy for Matt Barnes,'' Nelson said of the small forward, who is 24-for-48 from beyond the arc on the season. ``He played an all-around game, but the three has really made him something special.''

Following Thursday's game against the Rockets, Golden State plays six straight road games and nine of the next 11 away from Sacramento. The Warriors are just 1-6 on the road, compared with a 10-5 mark at Oracle Arena.

``We've been struggling, and we've got to get hot before we go out of town,'' Barnes said.

The Rockets won the previous contest between the teams this season, 118-90 on Dec. 5 at Houston. McGrady had 31 points and Yao added 27. Ellis led the Warriors with 19 points in the loss.

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