It's good to have the Rockets back, even if it's just for one night.
Houston snapped a 5-game slide in grand fashion Tuesday night, stepping up in the one area that they have completely tanked in all season:
Tracy McGrady scored 38 points for the second straight game, Juwan Howard put in 24 and Rafer Alston had his best game as a Rocket, going for 17 and 10 assists, as the Rockets blew past the Wizards in Washington, 123-111.
The Rockets have been atrocious with the ball in their hands in the previous 5 games, averaging just 84 points on a pathetic 37% shooting. They have been a nightmare to watch.
To further deepen my personal anguish, my wife's family is still in town for the holidays, meaning while I tried to watch this one on the tube, 7 kids under the age of 6 (and a handful of adults that you could argue are in the same age group) were in my house, bouncing off the walls like rabbits on crack.
So the Rockets gave me, and all their other fans, a late Christmas gift with this one. Over 55% shooting, nearly 53% from long range and 123 big ones. Gilbert and Co. didn't know what hit them.
McGrady's 38 is something you've grown accustomed to -- he's that damn good -- but Juwan had a season-high 24 and stepped up big tonight, hitting 10 of his 14 shots. Rafer also was big, elevating his game in the third quarter when he scored the bulk of his 17. He hit 3-5 from long range to boot, and one of those was a dagger in the final minutes that seemed to ice a late Wiz rally.
Rafer still has a long way to go to get his percentages up, but tonight was a nice start.
What was particularly impressive was how the team played with McGrady taking a breather. I like how John Lucas came in and provided some spark in the second quarter. I don't know what kind of offensive impact he will have this season, but the kid can clearly fly.
The bench was led by Luther Head (11 points, 6 boards) and Stromile Swift (13 points, 8 boards). Both played very well ... I really liked how Swift and Howard connected for a few buckets as well.
Stro seems more aggressive and I'm cautiously optimistic on him. On one hand, when a team is this desperate for a power forward and JVG still doesn't trust him to start, that's bad. On the other, he's starting to come around. He's averaging 18.7 points on 57% shooting to go with 11.3 boards in his past 3 games (as opposed to 8.3 and 4.2 in the 26 games before that).
That's a small sample size, but hopefully it's a sign of better things to come.
The Rockets take on LeBron and the Cavs on Thursday.