Triumphant Rockets get big games from Yao, Alston

HOUSTON -- The Houston Rockets have gotten used to playing without Tracy McGrady. They just don't know how many more times they'll have to do it.

Yao Ming had 24 points and 18 rebounds, Rafer Alston dished out a season-high 13 assists and the Rockets won again without McGrady, beating the Sacramento Kings 94-82 on Wednesday night.

Luis Scola added 19 points and 11 rebounds and Ron Artest scored 19 for the Rockets, who improved to 12-6 with McGrady out of the lineup this season. McGrady missed his 17th game with soreness in his left knee, the aftermath of offseason surgery. He also sat out one game with a sprained ankle.

McGrady said at halftime that he'll meet with doctors over the All-Star break to determine further treatment options. He said his knee still hasn't healed and is bothering him again after he sat out most of January to rest it. He wouldn't put a timetable on when he'll return.

Despite the Rockets' successful record without him, they say they need a healthy McGrady to make a strong push after the All-Star break.

"We sure do need him on the court," Alston said. "This team understands we need him on the floor. His health issues are as important as anything. We don't want an ailing Tracy McGrady on the floor. We want a healthy Tracy McGrady."

After a sluggish first half, the Rockets didn't need him at all against woeful Sacramento, who scored only 31 points in the middle two quarters.

The Rockets have admitted they've played lackluster defense lately, and smothering the Kings made them feel only marginally better.

"We can't be too excited about it," said Scola. "But we're trying to be a playoff contender, a team that is going to fight with the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs and whoever is at the top. We want to be that team. We can't be amazed that we beat Sacramento at home."

Houston plays five straight home games after the break, a pivotal stretch whether they have McGrady or not. Though the Rockets have no winning streak longer than four games this season, coach Rick Adelman thinks a late surge is still possible.

"I don't see why not," he said. "We have enough quality wins that we've shown how we can play. It's a matter now that we're going to have to do it."

Houston led by only four at the break, then put this one away by outscoring Sacramento 35-21 in the third quarter. The Kings went only 6-for-13 from the field in the quarter, got outrebounded 10-4 and gave away eight turnovers.

"That third quarter was a big blow for us," coach Kenny Natt said. "Our guys were not passing the ball and playing together as a team. We tend to take too many isolation shots and when they are not falling, we get into trouble."

Kevin Martin scored 18 points and rookie Jason Thompson added 14 in the game for the Kings, who've lost five in a row and 13 of 14.

The Kings hit 11 of their first 18 shots to build an early lead. The 6-foot-11 Thompson scored 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting in the first 9 minutes, but then went to the bench with two fouls.

Alston had six assists in the first quarter, but the Rockets went scoreless for a 3-minute stretch and trailed 25-22.

The teams combined for 11 turnovers in the first 6 1/2 minutes of the ragged second quarter. Martin intercepted a pass and drove for a layup to put Sacramento up 34-30 with 5:13 left in the half.

The Rockets finished the half with a 9-1 spurt as the Kings missed their last six shots. The Kings mustered a season-low 10 points in the second quarter after going 4-for-17 from the field. Houston wasn't much better, scoring only 17 points in the period on 7-for-21 shooting.

Houston opened the third quarter with a 21-8 spurt and pulled away from there.

Game notes
McGrady had an MRI on Wednesday, two nights after he went 1-for-9 from the field in Houston's 124-112 loss in Milwaukee. The Rockets said McGrady is "expected to seek additional medical opinions in the coming days" and that his status will be re-evaluated after the All-Star break. ... Kings C Brad Miller sat out for the fourth straight game with a hip flexor strain. ... The Kings' 10 points in the second quarter were a season low for a Houston opponent in any quarter this season. ... Scola has 16 double-doubles this season.