Preview: The 19-17 Rockets have won four consecutive games, including Wednesday's 101-92 victory at New York. They have played the past eight games without star Tracy McGrady, who has a strained knee tendon, and with 7-6 center Yao Ming stepping forth as the team's centerpiece. Until beating Memphis eight games ago on Dec. 28, the Rockets had lost eight consecutive games played without McGrady. ... This is the first of three meetings between the two teams this season, and the first of two in Houston. They play Feb. 4 at Target Center ... Former Timberwolves guard Mike James is anchored firmly on new coach Rick Adelman's bench. He has not played in the past three games or in seven of the past 14. He is averaging 7.4 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 29 games. ...Wolves guard Randy Foye did not make the Texas trip. He stayed behind to work on conditioning while the team plays two games in two nights.
Player to watch: Yao, a nightmare matchup for most teams but particularly the Wolves, delivered his fifth 30-point game of the season with a season-high 36 in Wednesday's victory at New York. That was his second 30-plus point game against the Knicks in four days. He is averaging 22 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 36 games.
Injuries: Wolves C Theo Ratliff is out (arthroscopic knee surgery). Rockets guard Steve Francis has been deactivated for 11 games this season for a variety of reasons; a leg injury is expected to keep him from playing tonight.