With Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest, the Houston Rockets hoped to contend for the NBA championship this season. Though they've shown promise at times, each member of the "Big Three" is getting frustrated with the team's inconsistency.
After pulling out a shaky win over a lesser opponent, the Rockets look to put their recent rough patch behind them as they visit the struggling Toronto Raptors on Friday night.
Though plagued by injuries, Houston (21-12) is a half-game behind Southwest Division-leading New Orleans. The Rockets, though, can't help but feel like they've missed opportunities to separate themselves from the pack as they've dropped three of their last five games.
After averaging 109.5 points and shooting 53.6 percent from the field during a four-game win streak from Dec. 16-22, Houston has been held to 92.2 points per game and 39.8 percent shooting over its last five contests.
The Rockets needed a late push to edge Milwaukee 85-81 at home Wednesday night, and were vocal about their dissatisfaction after the game.
"We've got to play better and that's it," said Artest, shooting a career-low 37.3 percent in his first season with Houston. "There's so much of the game where we have to play better. To sum it up, that win was not even a win."
The Rockets led by as many as 15 points, but allowed the Bucks to pull within one with 2:15 remaining. Houston's offensive struggles mirrored those of Monday night's 89-87 home loss to Washington, which has only six wins on the season - two on the road.
"When we're up on a team like (Milwaukee), we have to realize that we can't give any team hope in this league," McGrady said Wednesday. "You've just got to put 'em away."
The Rockets also blew a 16-point lead in a double-overtime win over Utah on Saturday night.
"I really am not excited about (Wednesday's) win," Yao said. "This keeps happening and happening since the Utah game, so I cannot be happy about this."
That's a familiar theme for the Raptors (12-20), who have lost 13 of 17 games to sink to the bottom of the Atlantic Division. It's been a surprising fall for a young Toronto team that won its first division title in 2006-07 and went back to the postseason last spring.
"I wish we could wipe the slate clean to be honest with you," All-Star forward Chris Bosh said after Toronto's latest defeat, a 114-107 home loss to Denver on Wednesday night. "I wish we could start over. We definitely have a challenge ahead of us."
The Raptors have dropped four straight at home, where they're 5-9. They were 25-16 at Air Canada Centre last season, and 30-11 there in 2006-07.
Toronto, though, has won four of its last five home games against Houston, defeating the Rockets 93-80 in the most recent such matchup Dec. 9.
Bosh led the Raptors with 21 points and 10 rebounds in that game, but was 7-for-17 from the field. In the teams' other meeting last season, Bosh went 7-for-20 in a 91-79 road loss Dec. 29.
Bosh's shooting could suffer again Friday if Houston doesn't have to worry about Raptors center Jermaine O'Neal. The six-time All-Star missed Toronto's last game with a sore right knee and is day-to-day.