The Houston Rockets have played four seasons with Tracy McGrady on their team, and have struggled mightily when he's been out of the lineup. With their star hurting once again, it seems they may have finally learned how to win without him.
Houston looks for its fourth win in six games without McGrady on Saturday when they host the New York Knicks, losers of six straight.
McGrady aggravated his sore left knee in a loss to Detroit on Dec. 23 and has missed the Rockets' last five games. Houston (16-17) had been 11-42 in four seasons when he had not been in its lineup, but has won three of its last five.
The seven-time All-Star is expected to miss another week to 10 days according to the team's trainer.
Houston beat Memphis and Toronto in its first two games without McGrady, led Golden State after three quarters before losing and then fell 97-93 on the road to the 28-3 Boston Celtics on Wednesday.
The Rockets got back in the win column with a 96-94 victory at Orlando on Friday, though not without controversy. Adonal Foyle appeared to tip in Rashard Lewis' miss with a fraction of a second left to tie it and force overtime, but officials waved off the basket.
"When they said it was no good, we were just trying to hurry up and take a shower, put our clothes on before they would tell us to come back onto the court,'' said Rockets guard Rafer Alston, who had 20 points and eight assists.
Alston, who's averaging 10.3 points, has stepped up with McGrady injured, scoring 17.6 per game in his absence.
Yao Ming also has shouldered more of a load in the paint lately, averaging 21.6 points and 11.0 rebounds over his last five games. He totaled 61 points, 26 rebounds and 10 blocks in two meetings against the Knicks last season.
"Yao's just a great player," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "Night in and night out he does it for us.''
Houston has won five in a row and seven of eight against New York.
The Knicks (8-23) have lost 12 of their last 14, and have been regularly booed at Madison Square Garden. But they started a three-game road trip Friday night and turned in one of their most competitive performances of late, a 97-93 loss to the defending champion San Antonio Spurs.
New York fell to 1-12 away from home.
"We competed from the start. We played hard,'' said Jamal Crawford, who sprained his left shoulder late in the third quarter. "We had several chances down the stretch. That's all you can ask - a chance to win.''
X-rays on Crawford's shoulder were negative, the Knicks said.
Crawford is New York's leading scorer, averaging a career-best 19.0 points. The Knicks were without their second-leading scorer - forward Zach Randolph - against San Antonio after the NBA issued him a one-game suspension for tossing his headband at a referee during the team's loss to Sacramento on Wednesday.
Crawford has averaged 19.8 points in six games against the Rockets since joining New York during the 2004-05 season.
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