96 - 108 Final
  for this game

Yao, McGrady lift Rockets past Nuggets

Dec 17, 2008 - 6:38 AM By Gene Duffey PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

HOUSTON (Ticker) -- It was point guard Rafer Alston's turn to sit out a game for the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night, But Houston had an answer.

With Alston sidelined by a strained left hamstring, Aaron Brooks stepped into the stating lineup and sparked a 108-96 victory over the Denver Nuggets at the Toyota Center.

Brooks, in his second season out of Oregon, scored 18 points, handed out six assists and had only two turnovers to outplay Denver's Chauncey Billups. He scored on drives to the basket, floaters in the lane and a pair of 3-pointers.

"I think the little fella (the 6-foot Brooks) held his own against a veteran player," said teammate Tracy McGrady, who added a triple-double.

Billups, who has done a marvelous job for the Nuggets since arriving in the trade with Detroit, managed only eight points and six assists in 35 minutes.

"Chauncey Billups is a great player," Brooks said. "Luckily he missed some shots today and we played great team defense. I knew what to expect (starting). I knew I'd be be out there longer minutes. I don't have to force anything. Eventually I'll do something good."

Even Billups appreciated Brooks' game.

"I really like the way he plays," Billups said. "He's really fast and shoots it from deep. He is a poised player and he is really getting better."

Brooks had plenty of help offensively.

Yao Ming scored 32 points and McGrady totaled 20 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists, playing in only his third game after sitting out three games with soreness in his left knee. It was the fourth triple-double of his career and first since December 2007 vs. Memphis.

"Tracy makes such a difference when he's feeling better," Houston coach Rick Adelman said. "He's such a good passer, when he's in the middle he's going to find open people."

Yao made 13-of-19 field goal attempts and Ron Artest, coming off the bench for the first time this season, scored 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including 4-of-9 from the arc.

"The whole game we were pretty good offensively," Adelman. "We moved the ball and really got it to Yao."

But Denver was even better in the first half. Recovering from a 13-2 deficit, the Nuggets led 61-56 at halftime on 57 percent shooting.

"The second quarter they made every shot," Adelman said of the Nuggets. "When they didn't make it, they got it back (with an offensive rebound). We came out the second half and really dug in defensively."

The Nuggets shot only 33 percent in the second half.

"The second half we protected the perimeter better and rebounded better," Yao said.

"We did a good job of making them a halfcourt team, especially in the second half," said Rockets forward Shane Battier. "That's the defense that will butter our bread this year."

"They stepped it up in the second half and played solid defense," said Carmelo Anthony, who led Denver with 22 points. "Yao really had it going, T-Mac hit timely shots and Artest did his part hitting shots."

Along with Brooks' scoring, that left too many people for the Nuggets to contain.

"I thought this was our worst defensive game of the year," Denver coach George Karl said. "Yao was incredibly difficult for us to figure out. Artest made some big plays for them. They shot the ball really well and we couldn't protect the paint."

Yao gave much of the credit to Brooks.

"He used his speed very well," Yao said. "He gets around people. He gives us a different look."

A combination of injuries have prevented the Rockets from being the team most people imagined before the start of the season. Battier missed the first 16 games, McGrady has missed seven, Artest three and even Yao one. Luis Scola is the only Rocket to start all 25 games.

"We're still missing some components," said Battier, mentioning Alston and guard Brent Barry, who has sat out 11 games. "You saw a semblance of what we can be."

"We have a lot of versatility with those three guys," Adelman said of McGrady, Artest and Battier. "We've got to build off this win."

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