After a demoralizing home loss to the Celtics, the Rockets got the best possible news Tuesday night.
A road win and the rebound of Yao Ming.
Yao scored 14 of his 21 points in the third quarter, including 12 of those in the final 5+ minutes of the period, as the Rockets beat the short-handed Wizards 93-80 in Washington.
The win ups the Rockets mark to 21-16 as they immediately head to Boston to face the same Celtics Wednesday night that embarrassed them in Houston Sunday.
It was Yao's game though as he went from "clueless" to "in control" in a span of 48 hours.
He had 7 points by half, but started to get things going in the third. When Brendan Haywood clobbered Yao while going up for a dunk, knocking him hard to the floor, the Rockets big man responded. He drew fouls, he knocked down his free throws, he nailed jumpers and he put on moves in the paint... including one where he shook off his man and threw down a vicious slam.
Yao didn't play a minute of the fourth quarter, but he didn't need to. He helped Houston build an 8-point lead going in to the fourth and despite an early scare, the Rockets controlled the game and Jeff Van Gundy opted to rest Yao for the second half of a back-to-back.
Steve Francis played beautifully tonight as well. He was two boards shy of a triple double, finishing with 16 points, 10 assists and 8 boards. He turned it over 7 times, but 2 or 3 of those came late in garbage time.
And boy did he sport some hops for his hometown. On one play Cuttino Mobley threw him a back door alleyoop pass which Francis crammed down, drawing oohs and ahhs from the Washington faithful. He threw down another nice jam on a fast break in the fourth.
Speaking of assists, Kelvin Cato had 6. That's right.. six. 12 points, 8 boards, 6 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks for "Special K".
Cuttino Mobley and Jim Jackson each added 16, with Jackson going 4-7 from long range. Jackson has now nailed 10 triples in his last 2 games. He's turning it on.
Maurice Taylor finished with 10 points and 7 boards, but you may never see another game where he has 4 blocks. Lock this one in the vault.
And Bostjan Nachbar got some playing time? This was a shock. Boki took Eric Piatkowski's normal rotation spot tonight and didn't shoot all that well, going 1-5 from the floor with 2 boards and an assist.
In the end, a win is a win, even against a Wizards team that was missing Jerry Stackhouse and Gilbert Arenas, but if they want to really get that bad taste out of their mouths from Sunday's loss, they need to go right in to Boston and punk the Celtics.