ATLANTA -- The Houston Rockets' 20th straight win was far from pretty, but coach Rick Adelman was still impressed with his team.
The Rockets were held to their lowest first-half total of the season but pulled away late to become the third team in NBA history to win 20 consecutive games, tying for the league's second-longest winning streak with an 83-75 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.
"It may be the ugliest thing we've done, but it might have been the best one," Adelman said, "the way we fought through it."
The Rockets joined the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers (33 straight) and 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks (20) as the only teams to win 20 or more in a row.
"We did enough to win," Adelman said.
Tracy McGrady scored 21 of his 28 points in the second half for Houston, which led only 71-70 with five minutes remaining. McGrady then scored five points in Houston's 10-0 run to take control.
"We're really happy with this win because we didn't play well in the first half," McGrady said. "This is a pretty ugly game tonight. We didn't shoot well and it was one of those games that our defense really had to win for us."
The Rockets are 20-0 since their last loss on Jan. 27 against Utah, including 7-0 since losing Yao Ming to a foot injury on Feb. 26. The Hawks have 16 losses in that same period.
A basket by Atlanta's Marvin Williams with five seconds left in the game ended the Rockets' streak of 10 straight wins by 10 or more points. Joe Johnson led the Hawks with 28 points, and Josh Smith had 16 points and a career-high 22 rebounds.
The Rockets pulled within one game of the Lakers for the best record in the Western Conference. Even so, many observers continue to focus on the Lakers and Spurs and other teams in the conference.
That's OK with Houston.
"It's unbelievable," McGrady said. "For me to be on this team that has accomplished 20 straight wins, that has got to be right up there with the most gratifying things I've accomplished in this league. ... You look at the Bulls that were 72-10, they didn't even do it. So this is pretty remarkable."
Added Adelman: "You could see the guys, it really means something to get this and just keep not only the streak going, but keep moving in the right direction."
Shane Battier had 15 points as Houston struggled to preserve its winning streak despite trailing 33-32 at halftime.
"Houston makes you play that way," Johnson said. "They are not a fast-paced team."
Houston led 59-57 at the end of the third quarter, but Atlanta's Zaza Pachulia opened the fourth with two free throws. Minutes later, he was called for a technical foul after arguing an offensive foul. Battier made the free throw to give the Rockets a 66-62 lead.
After Smith was denied inside, McGrady stretched the lead to 77-70 with a jumper which bounced twice on the rim before falling through the net. McGrady added a 3-pointer with 1:53 left for an 81-70 lead to cap the 10-0 run.
The Hawks have lost six of seven, but remain in contention to end the league's longest streak without a playoff appearance. They fell one-half game behind New Jersey for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.
"It's been tough," Johnson said. "Everytime we get in a position to move up, we take a step back."
Houston allowed only 89.3 points per game during its 19 straight wins and set a low scoring pace against the Hawks.
McGrady made only two of 10 shots from the field and three of six free throws in the first half as the Rockets shot only 27.9 percent from the field.
Despite a combined 31 rebounds by Smith and Al Horford, the Rockets held a 56-52 edge on the boards and an 18-15 advantage in second-chance points.
"We weren't able to stop them from getting second chances," Smith said. "They crashed the boards today."
Houston has held two straight opponents to 75 or fewer points, following a 91-73 win over New Jersey on Monday.
- The Rockets were without F Carl Landry (sore right knee), who remained in Houston.
- Hawks PG Acie Law (sprained right wrist) returned after missing 11 consecutive games.
- Hawks PG Mike Bibby made only three of 12 shots for 12 points.
- The Rockets committed only eight turnovers, including only one by point guard Rafer Alston, who had a game-high seven assists.
- Hayes had 12 points off the bench.