HOUSTON -- Houston coach Rick Adelman has started reminding his team what's at stake beyond preserving one of the NBA's all-time winning streaks.
That seems to be the only pep talk the Rockets need.
Tracy McGrady scored 19 points in less than three quarters and Houston routed cold-shooting New Jersey 91-73 on Monday night for its 19th consecutive victory, matching the third-longest winning streak in league history.
The Rockets won their 10th straight game by double digits, tying an NBA record last set by the Nets in 2004. They also won their 13th in a row at the Toyota Center, the franchise's longest home-court streak since the 1985-86 team won 20 consecutive games at The Summit.
Most importantly, the Rockets closed within one game of the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs for the top seed in the Western Conference. And that's the number Adelman keeps emphasizing.
"I told them (Monday) they have a double whammy going," Adelman said. "Not only do you have a chance to do something remarkable and get this streak going and keep it going, but also, every time you win, you keep shortening the season and you keep that lead that you have over other people and you're moving up the standings."
The Lakers play in Houston on Sunday, but the hype for that showdown can wait.
Houston can match the second-longest victory streak in NBA history with a win in Atlanta on Wednesday night. The Milwaukee Bucks won 20 in a row during the 1970-71 season.
"It's impressive, and we keep adding on games," point guard Rafer Alston said. "It's fantastic to have your name mentioned and your team mentioned with some of the best teams, some of the best players to ever play the game. It says a lot about our ballclub."
The Rockets held the Nets to 30 percent shooting (24-of-79) to match the league's longest run of consecutive wins since the 1999-2000 Lakers won 19 in a row on their way to the first of three straight championships with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.
Houston shot 46 percent (34-of-74) and pulled away by smothering the Nets on defense and outrebounding them 41-29. McGrady went only 6-for-14 from the floor.
"In this league, one thing you're going to have is off nights on the offensive end," McGrady said. "One thing you can control is how you play defense, and that's every night. As a team, we really understand that."
"It's always frustrating when we try to get to the hole and don't make our shots," Carter said.
Houston has beaten only eight teams with winning records during its streak, but Adelman bristled at the notion that the Rockets' roll is bogus because of all the bad teams they've faced.
"You know what?" he said. "Everybody in this league plays the same schedule. If it's that easy, why hasn't somebody else done it? I don't see the problem saying, 'You know? That's pretty remarkable what they've done."'
McGrady's only 3-pointer came in the final minute of the third quarter put Houston up 70-45. He sat out the entire fourth quarter, joking and cheering with Dikembe Mutombo.
Alston and Luis Scola had 12 points apiece for the Rockets, who've won 23 of their last 24 games and 28 of their last 31. Houston also improved to 7-0 since Yao Ming's season-ending foot injury.
But Shane Battier said the Rockets have stayed aware that they're one losing streak away from plunging out of postseason contention in the tightly packed West.
"At this point, we're fighting for the playoffs," he said. "That's all we care about right now."
This one got them a step closer.
New Jersey missed 11 of its first 13 shots and the Rockets built an early seven-point lead. Smothered by Jefferson early, McGrady missed his first three shots.
Sharpshooting Steve Novak came off the bench and hit a 3-pointer and McGrady sank two free throws to give Houston a 22-15 lead after one quarter. Novak finished with 11.
McGrady continued to struggle early in the second quarter. He couldn't handle an alley-oop pass from Bobby Jackson, then bounced a dribble off his foot after a steal, ruining a chance for a breakaway dunk.
After McGrady went to the bench three minutes into the second quarter, Novak swished another 3-pointer and Jackson hit a tough fadeaway to start a 19-5 run that Houston made without its seven-time All-Star.
McGrady hit a jumper and Battier swished another 3-pointer in the first minute of the third quarter as the lead swelled over 20.
The Nets shot better in the third quarter and made a mild rally, cutting the deficit to 14. McGrady hit a running jumper and his only 3-pointer in the final two minutes of the third quarter before calling it a night.
|Houston fans have plenty to be excited about during this historic win streak. (Getty Images)|
|New Jersey (26-38)||15||13||19||26||73|
|Houston (43-20) «||22||29||19||21||91|
|NJ:V. Carter 13 Pts
NJ:V. Carter 8 Reb
NJ:V. Carter 3 Ast
|HOU:T. McGrady 19 Pts
HOU:C. Hayes 10 Reb
HOU:T. McGrady 4 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|R. Jefferson, SF||36||4-12||4-6||3||3||4||12|
|V. Carter, SG||33||5-15||3-3||8||3||2||13|
|N. Krstic, C||26||3-12||0-0||7||1||1||6|
|D. Harris, SG||24||3-10||4-6||1||1||2||10|
|J. Boone, PF||18||0-5||0-0||2||0||3||0|
|B. Nachbar, SF||24||1-6||3-5||5||0||0||5|
|M. Williams, PG||24||3-6||2-3||4||1||0||8|
|D. Diop, C||18||2-6||3-4||8||3||4||7|
|S. Swift, C||13||1-3||3-5||4||0||1||5|
|T. Hassell, SF||13||1-2||3-4||1||0||0||5|
|S. Williams, PF||11||1-2||0-0||2||0||2||2|
|D. Armstrong, PG||Did Not Play|
|K. Van Horn, PF||Did Not Play|
|M. Ager, SG||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|S. Battier, SF||35||3-8||0-1||4||2||1||9|
|L. Scola, PF||33||5-11||2-6||5||1||3||12|
|T. McGrady, SG||29||6-14||6-7||4||4||1||19|
|R. Alston, PG||26||5-11||1-2||4||3||2||12|
|D. Mutombo, C||18||1-2||0-0||6||0||1||2|
|M. Harris, SF||20||2-7||2-4||7||1||3||6|
|C. Hayes, PF||18||0-0||0-0||10||3||6||0|
|S. Novak, SF||18||4-6||0-0||2||0||2||11|
|B. Jackson, PG||16||2-6||1-2||3||3||0||5|
|L. Head, PG||14||4-4||0-0||0||3||3||9|
|J. Williams, PF||6||1-3||1-4||1||0||3||3|
|A. Brooks, PG||6||1-2||0-0||2||1||1||3|
|S. Francis, PG||Did Not Play|
|Y. Ming, C||Did Not Play|
|C. Landry, PF||Did Not Play|
|G. Green, SG||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|