A season high-tying five-game road trip started out poorly for the Houston Rockets. A win over the defending NBA champions and a meeting with the team with the league's worst record could send them home in much higher spirits.
After snapping out of their funk by beating reigning champion Boston, the Rockets look to end their trip on a high note Friday night when they try to continue their dominance of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Houston (22-15) struggled nearly across the board in dropping the first three games of its trip. The Rockets shot 41.4 percent from the field and gave up 100.3 points per game in losses to Toronto, Atlanta and Philadelphia.
That didn't bode well for a meeting with Boston, which despite stumbling recently, still leads the league with 29 wins. The Rockets, though, rose to the challenge Wednesday night, outscoring the Celtics 18-11 in the fourth quarter and grinding out an 89-85 victory.
The win snapped a five-game road losing streak for Houston, which had won 10 of its first 16 away from home.
"I can't tell you what a great win that was," coach Rick Adelman told the Rockets' official Web site. "Our guys came out and competed for the whole 48 minutes. After we've had a rough trip, to come in here and beat these guys and control the fourth quarter -- it's just a terrific win."
Yao Ming keyed the victory, scoring 26 points and shooting 10-for-13 from the field after averaging 14.7 points in the first three games of the trip. He clinched the win with a putback that gave Houston a four-point lead with 12.9 seconds remaining.
"Yao is unstoppable," Rockets forward Ron Artest said. "Then, when you have shooters surrounding him, it's hard to guard him. He shot right over the top. When he's playing like that, we're going to be tough to beat."
The Thunder (5-31) know all about Yao's ability to take over games. They've lost 15 of their last 16 against Houston, including nine straight since their last win in the series April 4, 2006.
Yao has played in 12 of those 16 games and averaged 23.2 points and 10.5 rebounds while shooting 54.9 percent from the field and 88.5 percent from the free-throw line.
Oklahoma City had shown signs of improvement before taking a big step backward with a 129-87 road loss to Minnesota on Wednesday night. The Thunder beat New York 107-99 on Tuesday and their only loss in their previous three contests was on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Denver's Carmelo Anthony last Friday.
"There was nothing positive about this game," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Wednesday. "We showed lack of focus from the start. That's unacceptable. We've got to bring it every night."
Reigning rookie of the year Kevin Durant, who averaged 27.0 points over his previous 14 games, was held to a season-low nine and 3-for-13 shooting. The Thunder gave up 32 points on 16 turnovers while getting outscored 62-40 in the paint and outrebounded 57-38.
"Its tough. We played so hard (Tuesday) night and in games before," Durant said. "To come out and not even show up is tough."
Oklahoma City has already lost two games against Houston this season, including 100-89 at home Nov. 17. Yao had 19 points and 12 boards in that game, while Durant led the Thunder with 29 points.