Rockets red hot

STEVE BUFFERY, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

The Air Canada Centre faithful began last night's game by booing a pair of former Raptors, Tracy McGrady and Rafer Alston.

But after a few minutes, they began booing the Raptors.

And had no reason to let up.

Despite the fact that they were riding a four-game win streak, the Raptors (36-30) could do little to contain the talented Houston Rockets trio of McGrady, Alston and 7-foot-6 centre Yao Ming, as well as the defensive energy supplied by starting small forward Chuck Haye.

The Rockets burned red-hot from the opening buzzer, building a 17-point lead after the first quarter and, despite a few stutters, managed to cruise to a 114-100 victory.

Toronto's playoff magic number remains at 11. Any number of Toronto wins and losses by both New Jersey and New York that add up to 11 result in the Raptors qualifying for the playoffs.

Still, head coach Sam Mitchell wasn't taking a lot of comfort in that stat. The Raptors, who received quality outings from only two starters (Chris Bosh and T.J. Ford), attempted to get back into the game in the second half, but every time they made a run, the Rockets, led by the big three, answered back.

Rebounding, as usual, was the Achilles' heel for the Raptors, who were beaten on the boards, 47-33. Bosh picked up 19 for the Raptors, en route to his 31st double-double of the season, but the rest of the Toronto team contributed a mere 14. Toronto recorded a franchise-low two offensive boards. The Rockets also took 14 more shots than the Raptors (91-77), and shot 50%.

"We didn't get enough shots. We got a little tentative in the second half, we missed a couple of shots and stopped shooting. You've got to keep shooting when you're open," Mitchell said.

McGrady led all scorers with 24 points, and seven assists. Yao contributed 23 points and 12 rebounds while Alston fell just short of a triple-double, with 23 points, nine assists and eight boards, when he was forced to leave the game with 3:26 remaining after picking up his sixth foul.

"We tried everything to stop them, but we couldn't get over the hump," Ford said. "Every time we had the chance, we just couldn't come up with the shot."

Bosh had 16 points to go with his 19 rebounds. Ford had 18 points and eight assists and turned the ball over six times, while Andrea Bargnani and Juan Dixon had 16 and 17 points respectively off the bench.

Mitchell was forced to sit both Anthony Parker and Jose Calderon because the pair suffered ankle injuries in Toronto's 104-94 win over the New York Knicks on Wednesday. The Raptors activated forward Pape Sow and point guard Darrick Martin, who had 10 points and four assists, and started Morris Peterson in place of Parker.

Peterson, who is not happy with his minutes this season, didn't do himself any favours, picking up two points, one assist and one rebound in 17 minutes with a pair of turnovers. He sat on the bench for the rest of the game, looking forlorn, and became uncomfortable after the game when asked if he feels the coach has him on a very short leash.

"Do you see it that way?" Peterson said. "I just go out there and play basketball and let people judge on what they see. If anybody sees it that way, fine. I just see it as opportunities I get on the court, and I'm going to try to take advantage of."

The Raptors trailed by 17 after the first quarter and by as much as 22 in the first half.

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REPORT CARD

B+ Offence: The Raptors went to the charity stripe 33 times but only coverted on 24. The Raptors committed 14 turnovers, leading to 14 Houston points and picked up only 19 assists to Houston's 28.

C- Defence: Were out-rebounded 47-33 and allowed the Rockets to kill them from the field. Houston shot 50% from the field and 10-for-27 from the three-point line.


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