Rockets 104, Knicks 96

Even without two starters, the Houston Rockets are climbing out
of the hole they dug to start the season.

The New York Knicks seem headed toward continuing their recent
holiday tradition of being hopelessly behind by Thanksgiving.

Kevin Martin scored 28 points, Luis Scola added 24, and the
Rockets sent the Knicks to their fifth straight loss with a 104-96
victory on Sunday night.

Courtney Lee had 12 for the Rockets, who have won two straight
and three of four after opening the season with five straight
losses. Even without injured starters Yao Ming and Aaron Brooks,
they beat the Knicks for the 13th time in 15 meetings.

”It was a good road trip for us,” Martin said. ”We’re going
through a lot right now. Two of our top four players are out right
now and we thought we were going to have them beginning of the year
and find chemistry early, but now we’re going to have to rely on
whoever we have at the moment.”

Amare Stoudemire scored 25 points for the Knicks, who were
loudly booed in the fourth quarter. After blowing a 21-point lead
Friday in Minnesota, when they were on the wrong end of Kevin
Love’s 31-point, 31-rebound performance, they missed their first
eight shots in the final period to turn this game into a rout.

”I don’t understand why we’re not playing with the urgency,” a
visibly dejected Stoudemire said. ”I’m not used to that. We don’t
have that sense of urgency. It’s almost as if it doesn’t matter.
That’s something I’m not used to.

”I try to instill the fact that we have to play with sense of
urgency. It’s not like we won four games in a row, we lost four
games in a row. We just still are not having the sense of urgency.
We’re not showing that we really want it.”

New York (3-7) starts a four-game trip out West on Tuesday in
Denver, in danger of quickly falling out of the race in a season
that began with optimism after the signing of Stoudemire.

”Obviously nobody wants to lose and everybody is pressing,”
coach Mike D’Antoni said. ”The reality is we’re 3-7 and we’ve got
a game on Tuesday. So you just try to figure out what’s going
wrong, how can you get a little bit better, who to play in the
rotations and hit it on Tuesday. At this point that’s all we can
do.”

Ish Smith’s jumper at the buzzer gave Houston an 84-75 lead
after three, and the boos were out when Martin was all alone for a
fast-break layup after a Knicks miss to open the scoring in the
fourth.

Lee’s 3-pointer pushed it to 89-75, and the Rockets were
rolling. Stoudemire and Danilo Gallinari each managed a free throw
before Scola’s jumper started a run of nine straight points that
put it away at 96-77 midway through the period before the Knicks
finally ended their drought on Landry Fields’ follow dunk with 5:39
remaining.

Reserve center Chuck Hayes, who helped slow Stoudemire after his
strong start, said the Rockets could see the frustration in the
Knicks.

”It happens to every team,” he said. ”You get frustrated.
Everybody starts pointing fingers. Once you get a team like that,
you have them with their backs against the wall, you want to keep
them like that.”

The Rockets knew the early season could be a struggle as they
figured the best way to use Yao, who is on a minutes restriction
after returning from a year off with a foot injury. Things seemed
to get even worse when Brooks, then Yao, went down with their
sprained left ankles, but Houston is as accustomed as any team to
having to get by without key parts.

”Welcome to my life the last five years as a member of the
Houston Rockets,” veteran Shane Battier said. ”We have not been
blessed with health. So you get a certain sort of mentality when
you come here and you learn real quick that there’s not a lot of
excuses or pity when guys get injured or go down. Next man in line
and you better perform.”

Wilson Chandler scored 17 points for the Knicks, who got 15 from
Raymond Felton, 14 from Gallinari and 12 from Fields.

Stoudemire scored 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the first
quarter as the Knicks took a 27-26 lead. The Rockets controlled the
second, getting 10 points from Martin en route to a 58-52 halftime
lead.

Notes: Former lottery pick Jordan Hill, traded by the Knicks to
the Rockets in a cap-clearing move as part of the Tracy McGrady
deal, raced by the Knicks for two fast-break dunks in the second
quarter. … The Rockets were without reserve Chase Budinger, who
sprained his left ankle Friday in a victory at Indiana. … Knicks
F/C Ronny Turiaf missed his third straight game with a sprained
left knee. D’Antoni hopes he can return Tuesday, and it’s possible
he could start when he does. … Knicks reserve guard Roger Mason
Jr. played for just the second time in the last seven games.