The Houston Rockets started their longest winning streak in nearly 15 years by taking advantage of some inferior opponents. Keeping it going against stiffer competition doesn't appear to be a problem.
After extending their run with a win over the team with the best record in the Western Conference, the Rockets go for their 12th straight victory on Sunday when they host a Chicago Bulls team that's been buoyed by a blockbuster trade.
Houston (35-20) has mostly feasted on struggling teams during its 11-game run, beating six teams that currently have losing records and failing to meet a single division leader until Friday night's game against Southwest Division rival New Orleans.
The Rockets, though, didn't have much trouble dispatching the conference-best Hornets 100-80 behind big games from Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. It was their first win during the streak over a team that's currently ahead of them in the West standings, with Houston having moved into the seventh spot.
"We talked about making a statement," said Rockets coach Rick Adelman, whose team set a franchise record with its 10th consecutive road victory. "We feel we're playing as well as anybody in the league right now and we want to show that we can continue to do that by playing the best teams and getting the win."
Yao had 28 points and 14 rebounds, McGrady scored 34 points and Houston extended its longest win streak since opening the 1993-94 season with 15 straight victories en route to its first NBA title.
"We understand this is one of the teams that's ahead of us," McGrady said. "I wanted to really set the tone right away. I wanted to attack and see how they were going to play defensively. It was one-on-one and I got it rolling."
The Rockets have held eight of their last nine opponents below 90 points, and are giving up just 90.5 per game in going 20-4 since the beginning of January.
"Defensively, we're locked in," McGrady said.
The Rockets might expect another strong defensive effort against the Bulls (22-32), who are scoring just 95.6 points per game and rank last in the NBA in field-goal percentage at 42.7.
Chicago, though, is coming off its best offensive performance of the season, thanks in part to an 11-player, three-team trade that added Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, Shannon Brown and Cedric Simmons to the roster on Thursday.
None of those players was available for Friday night's 135-121 win over Denver, but the roster shakeup rejuvenated a Chicago team that has had a disappointing season.
"I think the most important thing tonight is just being happy in this locker room," said rookie center Joakim Noah, who reportedly clashed with Ben Wallace - dealt with Joe Smith and Adrian Griffin in Thursday's trade. "We haven't done that too much this year."
Chicago's newcomers could debut with the team Sunday.
The Bulls' 135 points Friday were their most since a 140-96 blowout of New Jersey on Jan. 4, 1992. Chicago scored at least 30 in all four quarters for the first time since a 134-123 win over Denver on Feb. 18, 1997.
"We were hot today," said Ben Gordon, who came off the bench to score 37 with six 3-pointers.
The Rockets were the hotter team when they beat the Bulls 116-98 in Chicago on Dec. 22. Seven Houston players scored in double figures, including McGrady with 20.
The Rockets have won nine of the last 10 meetings, including four in a row.
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