After facing two teams with losing records, the Washington Wizards know they will face bigger challenges. Although they'll be playing without Tracy McGrady, the Houston Rockets may provide one.
The Rockets (17-17) visit Washington on Tuesday, trying for their fifth straight win over the Wizards (17-15).
Houston is looking to win three straight for the first time since late November. The Rockets, who have won two straight and four of six, have played the last six games without McGrady, who is expected to be sidelined for another week because of strained tendons, tendinitis and a bone bruise in his left knee.
On Saturday, Houston survived McGrady's absence by winning 103-91 over the New York Knicks. Yao Ming scored 30 points and the Rockets shot a season-high 53.2 percent from the field, never trailing after the opening minutes of the first quarter.
Yao finished 12-of-21 from the field. He also had eight rebounds, six assists and four blocked shots.
Yao, who is averaging 21.6 points this season, has averaged 23 points during McGrady's absence and had plenty of support Saturday. Houston's bench scored 41 points, led by rookie Aaron Brooks, who scored a career-high 22. Brooks was 8-of-10 from the field and hit four 3-pointers.
"He's an amazing player," said Yao about Brooks. "Everybody knows he has speed, good skill and very strong confidence. Everybody knew one day, he would play like (he did) tonight. We didn't know which day. But one day."
Brooks has received limited minutes in only 13 games and he could see more playing time with McGrady not being re-evaluated until next Monday.
He isn't the only Rocket who has used McGrady's absence to his advantage. Rafer Alston, Bonzi Wells and Luis Scola have all increased their scoring averages during the time McGrady has been out.
"We're competitive. We've always been competitive," said Brooks, the 26th overall pick in last year's draft.
A competitive game would be something different for the Wizards, who posted two easy wins over the weekend. Washington won 101-77 over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday and 108-86 over the Seattle SuperSonics on Sunday.
Despite the back-to-back wins by margins of more than 20 points, the Wizards - who have the fourth-best record in the East - don't consider themselves among the elite teams in the conference.
"We're not Boston. We're not Detroit. I wanted to put reality on the table," said coach Eddie Jordan, who told his team at halftime that it wasn't that good.
Jordan specifically mentioned Caron Butler, who went 12-of-21 from the field for 33 points on Sunday. The coach thinks Washington's upcoming schedule, which includes a home-and-home set with the East-leading Celtics, will be a better indicator of how Butler and the rest of the Wizards measure up.
"I want to see him against the best players - with the monsters coming in. We've got Houston. We've got Boston, but who's looking ahead?" Jordan said.
Washington has won three of four and four of its last six, but all four wins have come against teams with losing records.
Houston has won four straight and 11 of 14 over Washington since the 2000-01 season.
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