An easy part of the schedule appears to be helping Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets get back on track.

The Rockets look to continue taking advantage of this favorable stretch when they host the struggling Orlando Magic on Sunday.

This contest is Houston's third straight against a sub-.500 team from the Eastern Conference. The Rockets (38-24) easily won the first two, beating Boston and New Jersey by a combined 52 points.

Houston scored more than 110 points in both wins - the team hadn't done that in back-to-back games all season - and held both the Celtics and Nets below 40 percent from the field. The Rockets lead the league in that category, limiting opponents to 42.5 percent shooting this season.

Orlando (29-34) has failed to score 100 points in nine of its last 10 games, going 2-8 in that span, and has lost 20 of 27.

Before winning their last two games, the Rockets had dropped four of five. The last of those losses - at Cleveland on Monday - marked Yao's return after he missed 32 games with a knee injury.

Yao was not particularly effective in his first two games back in the lineup, but he was very impressive in a 112-91 win over New Jersey on Friday. The 7-foot-6 center had 24 points and 13 rebounds while shooting 6-of-11 from the field and 12-of-13 at the free-throw line.

With the Rockets up by 26 points in the fourth quarter, Yao asked coach Jeff Van Gundy to be subbed back into the game to help continue rebuilding his stamina. Overall, he was on the court for 30 minutes, his longest outing in three games back from injury.

"I'm getting closer and closer," Yao said. "I felt good most of the game. I wanted to go out, just for conditioning."

Tracy McGrady added 34 points as he and Yao combined for their highest point total since scoring a season-high 66 against Washington on Dec. 9. Houston is 5-1 when the pair cracks the 50-point barrier.

"It's never been that we need (McGrady) or Yao," Van Gundy said. "We need both guys playing at a high level. When they do that, we'll have a chance."

While everything is coming together for the Rockets, Orlando seems to be falling apart.

The Magic have fallen to eighth in the Eastern Conference, trying to hold off New York and New Jersey for the final playoff spot.

A big reason Orlando has plummeted down the standings is its struggles on the road. The team has lost 17 of 20 away from home, including nine of its last 10.

The Magic were blown out at home in their most recent game, 100-76 to Chicago on Thursday.

Dwight Howard had 17 points and 14 rebounds for his 44th double-double of the season. He made at least half of his field-goal attempts for the 18th straight game, but missed nine of his 14 free throws and the Magic went 18-of-36 from the line.

Orlando scored a season-low 29 points in the first half.

"I'm not sure if we've ever played a first half like we played tonight as far as not making shots from the field or the free throw line," coach Brian Hill said. "We missed eight shots at the front of the rim and another eight free throws and that dug us a hole that we couldn't get out of."

In these teams' first meeting this season, McGrady scored 34 points to lead the Rockets to a 97-93 win over his former team on Feb. 25. McGrady, who won two NBA scoring titles while playing with the Magic from 2000-2004, is 3-0 against Orlando since a trade sent him to the Rockets before the 2004-2005 season.

Houston has won eight of nine against the Magic heading into Sunday's season series finale.


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