Houston's Tracy McGrady and Chicago's Luol Deng entered Monday's game as two of the hottest players of late. McGrady, who had been averaging 35 ppg over his last five games, finished with 31 points. Deng, who had 25.6 over his last five, scored 20.
No Yao? Wow, Rockets are 6-2
McGrady had the clutch touch down the stretch, scoring 25 points in the second half in an 84-77 win in Chicago, boosting the Rockets to 6-2 without Yao Ming, out with a broken bone in his leg.
Surprised by T-Mac's success without the big guy?
No -- he's still one of best one-on-one offensive players in the game. With Yao out, McGrady has taken his level of play up a notch.
So much attention has to be paid to McGrady, then you see Luther Head step up and hit a big shot. Jeff Van Gundy is a great defensive coach. It helps when they get a low-scoring game like this one. When McGrady's on the bench, you wonder how they can score.
Feed Dikembe Mutombo perhaps? His only bucket came when he picked up a stray ball and put it in.
When I was with the Rockets last year, we were told specifically NOT to throw him the ball.
But look at what the 40-year-old did. He pulled down 16 rebounds, his seventh straight game in double figures (first time since 2002). Ever get hit with one of his infamous elbows?
We made him put the pads on in practice. He doesn't mean to hit anybody, but you can't have Yao getting hurt with a stray elbow.
Mutombo even got a T for finger-wagging after swatting Ben Gordon. Shouldn't that move been grandfathered in, exempt from the taunting crackdown -- it's his trademark!
Actually, it was already not allowed, unless he did it in the direction of the crowd.
As for the Bulls, has Deng's development come quicker than you thought?
He's been a major surprise to me. I thought it was a big mistake when he came out of Duke after his freshman year. But he's shown marked improvement year after year.
Deng already seems strong with a midrange jumper. Could he possibly be the Bulls' solution in the virtually non-existent post game?
He's a guy they'd love to get down in there some more. But you'd like to have a 4 or 5 man doing that in the post, and I see him as a 3.
At his best, Bulls sixth man Gordon (24 points) seems like a mini T-Mac.
Gordon was just ridiculous -- Vinnie Johnson, plus. Even though they tried to use Mike Sweetney in the post early, in the end, it seemed all they could do is take tough, contested jump shots. The Bulls have good, good players -- but they're not T-Mac.
Is Kirk Hinrich tired from too much summer game? He seemed to hit a lot of front rims in shooting 1-for-11. He's now 6 for his last 31 (19.3 percent).
I'm not a big believer in that. When you're young, that's what you do, play ball. Same reason I don't buy it with Dwyane Wade -- he just has a heavy load to carry. There's going to be nights where he looks fatigued.
Jon Barry, who retired last year after 14 years in the NBA, joins Bill Walton and Mike Tirico on the call for Wednesday's Spurs-Nuggets game (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET)
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Nuggets guard Allen Iverson (23 points) jokes with Bucks forward Ruben Patterson (29 points, 12 rebounds) during Denver's 104-92 win.
Hornets G Bobby Jackson, who missed 16 games with a cracked left rib, is expected to have an MRI exam on Tuesday to determine what is causing him back pain. He scored seven points in 10 minutes Thursday against Detroit but hasn't played in New Orleans' last two games.
• The Clippers signed G Luke Jackson, a former first-round pick out of Oregon, to a 10-day contract. He did not play.
-- The Associated Press
Lindsay (Trinidad and Tobago): John, I know you are a big PER guy, but Kobe Bryant has been making his teammates better, keeping his play at a high level, leading his team to a terrific record in the west AND beating elite teams without Kwame Brown, Chris Mihm or Lamar Odom. No one is doing more with less than KB24. Is Kobe finally deserving of your MVP vote?
John Hollinger: I get questions about Kobe for MVP every week. The fact that his supporting cast is better doesn't necessarily have anything to do with Kobe. (this is more or less the same argument I keep having with Suns fans about Nash in fact). In fact, the two players who came from other teams -- Maurice Evans and Vladimir Radmanovic -- have played worse as Lakers.
McGrady heats up, targets the Bulls
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images
Tracy McGrady (31 points, eight rebounds, six assists) of the Houston Rockets shoots over Chicago's Luol Deng in Monday's Houston win.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy delivered a strong message to those hoping for a change at point guard: Forget about it.
Rafer Alston is staying in the lineup. "This has always puzzled me," Van Gundy said. "When you lose Yao and you go 5-2, I'm not looking after losing an overtime game to blow somebody up. ... Rafer's our point guard. He's gonna be our point guard. If anybody has a problem with that, wants to see a change, it ain't gonna happen. Everybody can stop all the questions about who's next. There ain't no next right now."
Alston was averaging 13.2 points but had shot just 36.4 percent entering Monday's game. He was 32-for-107 over the previous seven.
-- The Associated Press
January 9, 1972
Gilbert Arenas is currently the second-leading scorer in the NBA at 30.5 points per game, behind only Carmelo Anthony's 31.6 points per game. Arenas has improved his scoring each season he has been in the NBA. That is a fairly impressive accomplishment considering two things: 1) he was a second-round draft choice, and 2) he has averaged more than 18 points per game in each of his last five seasons.
Highest Career PPG, Non-1st Round Picks
Most Consecutive Seasons with Increase in PPG Active Players, Streaks
Michael Redd, 6
-- Peter D. Newmann, ESPN Research