LOS ANGELES -- Houston coach Rick Adelman has seen quite a transformation in his team without the injured Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady.
The Rockets trust each other at both ends of the court and have pushed the work ethic to another level to compensate for the loss of their two stars. On Wednesday night, Aaron Brooks made his first eight shots and finished with 22 points in 102-85 victory against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Houston has won back-to-back games for the first time since a three-game stretch that followed a season-opening loss at Portland.
"For the most part, our guys have done a good job," Adelman said. "I mean, we knew we were going to have shortcoming and we knew we were going to be small. We lost our top three scorers from last year, so we knew we were going to find out who was going to be the guy who steps up. We've played a tough schedule, we've played a lot of games on the road against good teams, and we've responded."
Brooks was 9 for 11 from the field overall after coming in with a shooting percentage of 43.2, third-highest on the club.
"We've done better every game that Aaron's had a big game, because he's a guy that they have a hard time covering," Adelman said. "But the biggest thing for our team is that we understand that we have to play hard every game. I mean, that's an old cliché, but that's true with us. When he don't compete every possession and we don't compete at both ends, we're going to struggle."
Chase Budinger scored 19 points and Trevor Ariza added 16 for the Rockets, who outscored Los Angeles 16-3 during the final 6:52. They shot 50.7 percent from the field, improving to 5-0 under those circumstances.
"We're going to keep playing hard," Brooks said. "Coach knows the pieces he's got now and he does a good job substituting, so hopefully we'll come together and get some more wins."
Al Thornton had 19 points for the Clippers, who were 0 for 13 from 3-point range before Baron Davis ended the drought with 1.1 seconds to play. By contrast, Houston was 12 for 23 on 3-pointers.
"I'm disappointed by our mental and physical toughness," coach Mike Dunleavy said. "When the ball is not going in the hole for us, that's when we need to become more focused and more determined defensively. We got outrebounded by 14 in the second half, and that just shows they were tougher than we were."
Houston forward Luis Scola, wearing protective goggles after getting gouged in the right eye by Etan Thomas on Sunday at Oklahoma City and getting seven stitches, played 28 minutes and was 4 for 11 with eight points and seven rebounds.
Ariza picked up his fourth foul -- and third in a 52-second span -- with 3:40 left in the third quarter and went to the bench with the Rockets ahead 69-61. The Clippers outscored Houston 10-3 during the next two minutes to pull to 72-71, but never regained the lead.
"We never got down on ourselves. We always stay confident," Ariza said. "They guys coming in made big plays defensively and we didn't give them second-chance points."
Ariza, who came to the Rockets in the trade that sent Ron Artest to the Lakers, came in leading Houston with an 18.2 scoring average despite the fact that he spent most of his five previous NBA seasons as a defensive specialist off the bench.
"I think what he's trying to figure out is that he's suddenly a guy who's playing 39 minutes a game and the ball's in his hands a lot. So he's got to live with the shots that he takes," Adelman said. "We have to work on making sure he understands what's good and not good for him."
Los Angeles was down by four when Houston's Carl Landry made a three-point play, Ariza followed with a 21-footer and a layup a minute apart, Kyle Lowry added a layup and Budinger hit a 3-pointer to give the Rockets a commanding 98-82 lead with 1:47 to play.
"Where we have had most of our struggles is the fact that game in and game out, somebody has played well and somebody else hasn't. So when the game's on the line, you don't know who to go to at that point," Adelman said. "I think Trevor and Aaron are the two best guys as far as attacking the other team."
Scola played in his 182nd consecutive game. His streak is the seventh-longest in club history and three short of John Lucas Jr., whose father is an assistant coach with the Clippers. ... When the Clippers play host to Indiana on Saturday night, Dunleavy will tie fellow former New York coach Red Holzman for 16th place on the NBA list for regular-season games coached at 1,300.