McGrady, Rockets maintain winning ways, push by Anthony, Nuggets

HOUSTON (AP) -- After their 15th straight victory, the Houston Rockets finally moved up in the Western conference standings.

Tracy McGrady scored 22 points, Shane Battier added 20 and the Rockets tied a franchise record with a 103-89 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night.

The winning streak is the longest in the NBA this season and matches the longest one in franchise history, reached twice, with the last coming in their championship season of 1993-94. It was Houston's third straight win since losing All-Star center Yao Ming for the season with a stress fracture in his foot and its 19th win in the last 20 games.

Despite not losing since Jan. 27, the Rockets had been stuck in seventh place in the West. After Sunday's win and a loss by Dallas, Houston moved into fifth.

"We know how good we are and we're showing it," McGrady said. "We're a focused group, a group that understands how to win ballgames."

Houston trailed by seven in the first quarter, before taking the lead with about a minute left in the quarter on a dunk by McGrady after a turnover by Allen Iverson. The Rockets didn't trail after that and led by double digits for most of the game.

"We didn't play well," Iverson said. "I struggled all night and if I struggle the way I did, it's going to be tough for us to win games."

Iverson went 7-for-22 and finished with a 17 points after scoring 38 on Friday. He was scoreless in the third quarter and didn't score again until a jump shot with less than 8 minutes left in the game. In the fourth quarter, he drove the lane and missed a layup before falling face-first onto the court. He got up shaking his head in disbelief.

He said his struggles didn't have anything to do with Houston's defense.

"The most frustrating part of the whole night was that I got a lot of good looks," he said. "I remember in the fourth quarter I had a layup point blank and I missed that. It was just a rough night for me. I just couldn't get on track."

The Rockets have won their last six games by 10 points or more, extending a franchise record.

Carmelo Anthony led the Nuggets with 19 points and Kenyon Martin had 12 points and 10 rebounds.

"I think we will learn from this game and we will be a better team because of this game," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "We're going to have to be."

The Rockets were up by nine entering the fourth quarter and outscored Denver 18-8 in the first eight minutes of the period, thanks to a pair of 3s by Battier, to stretch their lead to 98-79. Karl replaced his starters with just under 2 minutes remaining.

"It's been fun ... but it's a run that we're not satisfied by," Battier said. "We feel like we still have a lot of improvement and that's the exciting part. I don't think we're playing our best."

Dikembe Mutombo started the third straight game in place of Yao and had five rebounds, three blocks and two points in 24 minutes. Carl Landry also filled in at the position and had 12 points and five rebounds.

Houston stretched a 10-point halftime lead to 76-60 with about 3 minutes left in the third quarter. J.R. Smith then hit two straight 3-pointers to get Denver back within 10 about a minute later. The Nuggets trailed 80-71 entering the fourth quarter.

Houston scored the last six points of the second quarter to lead 50-40 at halftime.

"It was just a solid one for our guys," coach Rick Adelman said. "I couldn't be prouder of them."

The Rockets, who hadn't trailed in two straight games, got behind 4-0 in this one and Denver led 12-5 midway through the first quarter. Houston scored seven straight points to tie it, before the Nuggets took a 16-12 lead on two quick baskets.

A 9-2 run, fueled by six points by McGrady, gave Houston a 21-18 at the end of the first quarter.

Houston got 18 points from Luis Scola and 16 points and eight assists from Rafer Alston.

Game notes
Karl said guard Chucky Atkins, who had surgery in January to repair a sports hernia, should return to practice Monday and could play in 10-12 days. ... Roger Clemens watched the game from a courtside seat. His lawyer, Rusty Hardin, who has represented him since he was accused of using steroids and human growth hormone Mitchell report, sat two seats from him. ... Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young, who grew up in Houston, also attended the game.