Yao Ming had 32 points and 10 rebounds, Rafer Alston added 24 points and eight assists, and the Rockets snapped a three-game losing streak with a 108-103 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday in their fourth game without McGrady.
The six-time All-Star was scratched again because of back spasms. Luther Head, making his fourth straight start in McGrady's absence, scored 14 points in 40½ minutes and extended his streak to 23 consecutive games with at least one 3-point basket -- tying the franchise record shared by Sleepy Floyd and Matt Maloney.
"We're trying to show that we can win games and pull games out without Tracy," Alston said. "His absence has been a factor in stretches of games where we were staggering, didn't have much continuity and weren't scoring the ball. Today we were trying to stop the losing streak, No. 1, and we also needed to play better on both sides of the ball."
The Rockets have allowed 100 or more points in five consecutive games since giving up a franchise record-low 62 points to the Charlotte Bobcats on Dec. 8. It's the longest such streak in Jeff Van Gundy's 11 seasons as an NBA head coach, including eight with the New York Knicks.
"It's just a lack of concentration on defense, along with energy and effort," Alston said. "Not making the second effort has been hurting us -- letting teams get to the offensive glass on us and pound us in the paint. So we have to look at film and get back to the things we're capable of doing."
The injury-plagued Clippers have dropped five of their last eight home games after starting out a franchise-best 6-0. They have dropped four straight overall and 12 of the last 14 meetings with the Rockets.
"It's a double disappointment because we're losing games and losing players. But we've just got to keep fighting and plugging away," Brand said. "One of the things that's missing from last year are energy, defensive rotations, and the fire and will to win. We've got to get that back."
Neither team led by more than five points during a 15:57 stretch, which ended when Shane Battier's 3-pointer gave Houston a 54-46 advantage with 9:22 left in the third quarter. The Rockets continued to keep the Clippers at bay with their perimeter shooting, getting three 3-pointers from Alston and one from Head during a 5-minute span.
"It's a fine line when to double-team Yao and when not to. And they made us pay the price with some of our double teams with their 3-point shooting," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said.
Trailing by 12 late in the third, the Clippers cut it to 100-96 as Corey Maggette scored nine of his 19 points in a 3:51 span -- including a 17-footer with 1:19 to play. But Yao responded with an 8-foot turnaround jumper, then blocked Maggette's driving layup out of bounds with 54 seconds to go.
Cuttino Mobley hit an 18-footer and Head made one of two free throws at the other end, before Maggette's layup cut Houston's lead to 103-100 with 19.5 seconds left. But Alston clinched it with four free throws in the final 14.7 seconds.
Tim Thomas started at small forward for the Clippers, but never made it out of the first quarter. He left the floor just 38 seconds after the opening tip because of a bruised left knee and returned with 5:54 left in the quarter. But less than 3½ minutes later, he bruised his left elbow in a collision with Dikembe Mutombo and was knocked on his back by referee Phil Robinson while clutching his painful elbow. X-rays were negative.
Sam Cassell was scratched for the second time in three games because of a sore left heel that limited him to just 12 minutes in the Clippers' loss at Portland on Friday. Another guard, Quinton Ross, left the game with 7:48 remaining in the third quarter because of back spasms.
"It's tough times because of matchups, but I never try to put it on injuries because injuries are an opportunity for other guys to step up and get better," Dunleavy said. "We were hoping that part of our strength was going to be our depth, but that has been pretty well stretched right now."
- Van Gundy was glad to be some 3,000 miles away from Saturday night's Knicks-Nuggets brawl at Madison Square Garden. When he coached New York, the Knicks engaged in a pair of postseason brawls with the Miami Heat. One of them resulted in the diminutive Van Gundy hanging onto the leg of Miami's Alonzo Mourning and getting dragged around the Garden court with 1.4 seconds left in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series in 1998, after Mourning exchanged punches with Larry Johnson. "Unfortunately, I was involved in two of them and made a fool out of myself in one of them. So I have empathy for anybody that lost control last night," Van Gundy said. "It's certainly unfortunate, but I don't see it as any indicator of trouble. It was an isolated incident. Things like that are not indicative of the state of the NBA. I don't think it has any lasting ramifications."