for this game

Alston, red-hot Rockets extend record winning streak

Mar 17, 2008 - 12:56 AM By Ted Dunham PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

HOUSTON (Ticker) -- Even a dismal shooting performance from Tracy McGrady couldn't prevent the red-hot Houston Rockets from recording their 22nd consecutive victory.

Rafer Alston scored a career-high 31 points Sunday afternoon as the Rockets downed the Los Angeles Lakers, 104-92, and secured the best record in the Western Conference.

The victory extended the second-longest winning streak in NBA history. The Rockets only trail the 1971-72 Lakers, who won 33 consecutive contests.

McGrady missed his first nine shots and finished with 11 points on 4-of-16 shooting - but there was plenty of help elsewhere.

Alston in particular.

"The guy was doing some stuff that was just amazing," McGrady said. "The way he was just shooting the ball, it got to the point where every shot he put up was going in.

"You get caught up in the moment, and you kind of get out of your game because the other guy (Alston) is playing so well. I was one of those guys tonight."

Bobby Jackson added 19 points off the bench for the Rockets (46-20), who moved one game ahead of the Lakers (45-21) for first place in the West standings.

Jackson scored five points down the stretch that helped turn a 91-86 lead into a 100-86 advantage with 2:22 remaining.

"This is the NBA, so we know teams are going to make a run," Jackson said. "We didn't get down, we stayed composed, and we continued to stay within our game. We toughed it out and made things happen at the end."

Kobe Bryant paced the Lakers with 24 points and Lamar Odom added 17.

"(Shane Battier) is a good defensive player, but my shot was flat," Bryant said. "Bobby Jackson was a great addition for them - he came in tonight and had 19 points off the bench. Luther Head played well - their bench is their key to this long streak."

Houston missed its first 12 shots of the third quarter and finished a lackluster 4-of-23 from the field in the period, as the Lakers trimmed a 15-point deficit to 71-66 entering the fourth quarter.

The Lakers closed to 86-84 with six minutes left on a Jordan Farmar 3-pointer, but could get no closer.

Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson was impressed the Rockets hung on despite their third-quarter shooting woes.

"They share the ball, and their defense is solid," Jackson said. "I thought Tracy had as poor a game as he's had all season, and I think that shows how good their team really is. Rafer Alston was difficult to guard for any of our players."

Despite McGrady struggling through an 0-for-6 performance in the first half, there was more than enough help from the Rockets' other guards.

Alston exploded for 16 first-quarter points while Jackson scored all nine of his first-half points in a 35-point period when Houston opened a 59-44 halftime lead.

The Rockets forged ahead for good at 28-27 with 10:03 left in the second quarter on Jackson's jumper. Head scored all seven of his points in the period to help Houston grab a lead it wouldn't relinquish.

"It feels great, it's just a joy ride," Head said. "Each and every game we seem to be winning in a different way.

"Rafer was great tonight. He had a little bit of T-Mac blood in him. We always expect to win. We wouldn't be much of a team if we didn't expect to win every game."

Rockets coach Rick Adelman remains modest and realistic about his team's accomplishment.

"We had a challenge today, we had to beat the Lakers here to get that (best record in the West), and we did it," Adelman said. "Now, we have the best team in the East (Boston) coming in here Tuesday, and that will be our next challenge.

"It's a great win. We really got stagnant, offensively, but give our guys credit. We defended really well and made the plays in the fourth quarter to win."