The Houston Rockets hoped to have Tracy McGrady back by now. Instead, they'll try to keep winning without him.
The Rockets look to win six straight games for the first time in almost three years Sunday when they host the New Orleans Hornets.
Houston (20-17) has won seven of nine games since McGrady suffered a sore left knee and had to leave a 94-82 loss at Detroit on Dec. 23. That strong run has been punctuated by a winning streak that reached a season-high five games with a 113-82 victory over league-worst Minnesota on Friday.
McGrady, the team's leader with 22.8 points per game, was hoping to return against the Timberwolves, but he is expected to miss three more games as he works on his conditioning.
With the star swingman out, the Rockets will try to win six in a row for the first time since a seven-game run to close out the 2004-05 season.
"It's a Catch-22. Right now the ball's hopping, the ball's touching a lot of guys," said Rockets point guard Rafer Alston, who is averaging 16.4 points and 5.9 assists with McGrady out.
The Rockets have had five different players lead the team in scoring since McGrady has been sidelined. The latest was forward Luis Scola, who matched his career high with 22 points against Minnesota. An established star in Europe, but a rookie in the NBA, Scola is averaging 12.8 points over the last 11 games.
"I think I'm working hard and I'm getting better little by little," said Scola, who has 8.1 points per game and 5.1 rebounds on the season. "I'm getting used to the differences between here and where I come from."
Houston also continues to get outstanding production from star center Yao Ming, who is averaging 23.3 points and 9.7 boards over the last nine games. He is making 58.3 percent of his shots (49-for-84) for a 25.6 scoring average during the winning streak.
The Rockets have won just twice in their last nine games against the Hornets (24-12), including once in five contests at home. This is the teams' first meeting this season after New Orleans won three of four in 2006-07.
New Orleans, which has won nine of its last 11 games, is looking to build on a 114-88 rout of Miami on Friday. Reserve point guard Bobby Jackson set a career high by making all seven of his 3-pointers to finish with a season-high 25 points.
"I felt like I was going to make every shot," said Jackson, who averages 6.9 points. "The basket feels real big when you have that type of confidence and this game is all about confidence."
The Hornets are certainly feeling confident, getting out to their best 36-game start in franchise history.
Much of that success can be attributed to Chris Paul, the team's leader with 21.7 points per game and 10.4 assists - which rank third in the NBA.
The point guard made all seven of his shots Friday to total 16 points and 16 assists. He averaged 18.0 points and 11.3 assists in four games against Houston last season.
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