Tracy McGrady has been key to the success of the Houston Rockets since he joined the team before the 2004-05 season. Thanks to Yao Ming, however, the Rockets finally feel like they can win without the two-time scoring champion.
McGrady has the flu and is questionable for Friday, when Yao and the Rockets visit the struggling Indiana Pacers in search of their 11th win in 14 games.
McGrady has been plagued by various injuries during his four seasons with Houston, including chronic back troubles that derailed his -- and the Rockets' -- 2005-06 season, and a balky left knee that sidelined him for 11 games from Dec. 28-Jan. 15.
The Rockets were 11-42 in their first 53 games without McGrady, but have won eight of their last 12 without him. On Tuesday, Yao tied his season highs with 36 points and 19 rebounds as Houston (25-20) beat Golden State 111-107 for its 10th victory in 13 games.
"We had Yao Ming," Rockets forward Shane Battier told the team's official Web site. "That was the difference. The big fella was awesome tonight. He really put us on his back. He was aggressive and he just played a phenomenal game."
Yao struggled in the Rockets' first two games -- both losses -- without McGrady this season, averaging 13.0 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting just 11-for-33 from the field. In the team's last 13 games without McGrady, however, Yao is averaging 25.2 points and 11.5 boards and shooting 52.3 percent.
"If we could just get the ball in there to him," Rockets point guard Rafer Alston said Tuesday, "we could have any shot we wanted."
Meanwhile, the Pacers (19-27) have lost four straight and 14 of 18 since Dec. 26. They opened a four-game homestand with a 110-104 loss to Central Division-leading Detroit on Tuesday, and it doesn't get much easier with Houston, Southeast Division-leading Orlando and defending NBA champion San Antonio visiting Conseco Fieldhouse over the next week.
"It's a pivotal moment right now," Indiana forward Danny Granger said. "We really have to defend our home court and get some momentum going into the All-Star break."
Granger had 16 points in Tuesday's loss, but was just 5-for-15 from the field for the second consecutive game.
Indiana's Mike Dunleavy, meanwhile, has thrived in his last three games, averaging 24.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists while shooting 57.5 percent from the field. Dunleavy is averaging career highs with 17.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists in his first full season with Indiana after four-plus frustrating seasons with Golden State.
The Pacers and Rockets split two games last season, with the home team winning each.
Now, though, Houston has won five straight road games. The Rockets haven't won six straight away from home since winning their first eight road games of the 1996-97 season.
Yao has recorded double-doubles in each of his last three games against Indiana, averaging 31.3 points and 12.3 rebounds while shooting 54.2 percent.