McGrady's triple-double propels resilient Rockets over Nuggets

HOUSTON -- Tracy McGrady did it all, Yao Ming dominated inside and Ron Artest provided support off the bench. Finally, the Houston Rockets showed a glimpse of how good they can be.

McGrady notched his fourth career triple-double and first this season, Yao scored 32 points and the Rockets beat the Denver Nuggets 108-96 on Tuesday night.

McGrady had 20 points and reached season highs in rebounds (14) and assists (10) for his first triple-double since last December. Artest scored 20 points and backup point guard Aaron Brooks added 18 for the Rockets, who've won five of their last seven games despite a seemingly unending rash of injuries.

But this was the kind of performance expected from the Rockets since they acquired Artest in August. Houston matched a season high with 26 assists, held the Nuggets to 35 points in the second half and shot a season-high 55 percent (42-of-76) from the field.

"It was, overall, a great effort on our part," said McGrady, who also had three blocked shots and a steal. "We can be a dangerous team, when we've got the defense as well, clicking like that, we can be a pretty good team."

Just wait until everyone gets healthy.

Artest missed the last two games with a sprained right ankle and starting point guard Rafer Alston skipped this one with a strained left hamstring. Backup guard Von Wafer sat out with a sprained left ankle and reserve guard Brent Barry missed his ninth straight game with a torn muscle in his right calf.

McGrady has been bothered by a sore left knee all season, but he looked as spry as ever on Tuesday night. He had a triple-double by the end of the third quarter -- 15 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists -- and finished his big night with a 3-pointer in the final minute, his third of the game.

Carmelo Anthony scored 22 and J.R. Smith had 17 for the Nuggets, who had a four-game winning streak snapped. Chauncey Billups scored eight points as Denver dropped to 16-5 since acquiring Billups from Detroit on Nov. 3.

Anthony pointed to Houston's Big Three as the difference in the game.

"Yao really had it going, T-Mac hit timely shots and Artest did his part," Anthony said.

The Rockets led by six after three quarters and the reserves maintained the lead until Yao and McGrady returned after rests with about seven minutes left.

McGrady grabbed a rebound, Yao flipped in a hook shot and Brooks drove for a layup to put the Rockets up 96-88. Yao's two free throws with 2:44 left pushed Houston over 100 points and increased the lead to 11.

If they can all just avoid more injuries, Yao said, the Rockets will only improve with more practice time together.

"Hopefully, the rest of the season, we can more consistently play with the same groups," Yao said. "Today was a very good experience for us. But it's still one game throughout a season of 82 games, plus the playoffs. When that time comes, it will be a totally different story."

The Rockets opened the game with a 13-2 run, starting 5-for-6 from the field and grabbing the first seven rebounds. Denver pulled within five before Artest came off the bench with 3:56 left in the first quarter and hit his first shot, a 3-pointer from the top of the key.

Houston shot 54 percent (13-for-24) in the first quarter, but led only 30-25. After missing seven of their first 10 shots, the Nuggets made 13 of their next 19 and Linas Kleiza's fast-break layup put Denver up 35-33 early in the second quarter.

Denver went 7-for-11 from 3-point range in the first half and led 61-56 at the break.

Shane Battier sank consecutive 3-pointers during a quick 8-0 run early in the third quarter that put Houston ahead 68-67. McGrady had two assists and three rebounds over the next three minutes as the Rockets stretched the lead to 81-74.

He passed to Yao for another basket inside with 1:58 left in the third quarter for his 10th assist, completing the triple-double.

Houston led 85-79 after three quarters and Kleiza cut Denver's deficit in half with a 3-pointer with 10:22 left in the game.

Game notes
McGrady earned his first triple-double since Dec. 5, 2007, against Memphis. ... The Rockets are 10-0 when they shoot 50 percent or better in the first quarter this season. ... Houston improved to 70-6 at the Toyota Center when they reach 100 points. ... Denver had 23 second-chance points, a season high for a Houston opponent.