for this game

McGrady's big effort helps Rockets win 18th straight

Mar 9, 2008 - 6:19 AM By Gene Duffey PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer HOUSTON (Ticker) -- Houston Rockets superstar Tracy McGrady sometimes waits until the second half to take over a game. On Saturday night against the New Orleans Hornets, he did it from the opening tip.

McGrady scored 41 points - six short of his season high - and dished out nine assists to help the Rockets extend their franchise-record winning streak to 18 games with a 106-96 victory over the Hornets.

McGrady finished 17-of-27 from the floor, including 3-of-8 from behind the arc as Houston set a season high with 14 3-pointers.

"He was ready (Saturday) morning," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said of McGrady's attitude at the shootaround. "You could tell he was ready to go. He's been very motivated. He was terrific the whole game. We needed a big game out of him, and he flat out delivered."

McGrady played all 48 minutes.

"I understood how big this game was," McGrady said. "He (Adelman) told us at shootaround this game is for third spot (for playoff seeding in the Western Conference). That was excellent motivation right there. I'm not really impressed what I brought to the table, because I've been playing well.

"For us to win this game put us in a great spot. I don't think too many guys on this team have felt the way it is to be in the third spot. That's pretty big."

The Rockets won their sixth in a row since All-Star Yao Ming went out for the season with a stress fracture in his left foot. He underwent surgery earlier in the week.

Houston (42-20) - on a 12-game winning streak at home - has won 22 of 23 and is 27-4 since the start of 2008, pushing it into third place in the Western Conference playoff picture.

In addition, the 18-game winning streak is tied for the fourth longest in NBA history.

The Rockets accepted the streak without excitement.

"Numbers don't matter to us," Houston forward Shane Battier said. "The only thing that matters to us is the quality of basketball we're playing."

"This is the regular season," said McGrady, saying the winning streak meant "nothing" to him. "Our concentration is all about the playoffs. We've had a pretty good run in the regular season - not like this.

"But this is a team that has won 50 games in the past. It's all about what we can do in the playoffs."

The Rockets should have a good chance of winning their next three, playing New Jersey and Charlotte at home sandwiched around a road trip to New Orleans.

Point guard Rafer Alston continued to play good ball for the Rockets, scoring 20 points - including four 3-pointers.

"We had Tracy McGrady, and it didn't matter what they did," Alston said of the Hornets. "When they tried doubling him, we were knocking down threes. They tried single coverage and that's a no-no, 41 points for the big fella."

"Tracy McGrady was fantastic," New Orleans coach Byron Scott said. "Everything we tried to do against him just didn't work. He had an unbelievable game, and they shot the eyes out of the basket."

Chris Paul kept New Orleans in the game until the final minutes with 37 points and 11 assists.

"They had a great player, too, and he was making everything," Adelman said of Paul. "I kept waiting for him to miss in the second half. He's a great player and really matured beyond his years."

Paul shot 15-of-26, including a three 3-pointers.

"Tracy McGrady was just unbelievable," Paul said. "Even though they have won 18 games in a row, they are still playing with a chip on their shoulder."

Paul did rally New Orleans within 77-72 late in the third quarter, but the Hornets got no closer the rest of the evening.

David West, New Orleans' second-best scorer and rebounder, missed his third straight game with a sprained ankle.

The Rockets have won nine in a row by 10 points or more - one short of the NBA record.

Adelman was asked if he was surprised Houston could continue to play at such a high level without Yao.

"If you would have told me (that), I would have been shaking my head," Adelman said. "I don't think you ever expect anything like that. These guys believe they're for real."

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