HOUSTON (AP) -- Tracy McGrady attacked the basket and clearly
relished his defensive assignment, displaying a ferocity not always
seen from the sleepy-eyed All-Star.
Roused by the challenge of dueling with LeBron James, McGrady
put on quite a show.
"Every time I face a guy like LeBron James, Kobe (Bryant) and
those guys, you have to bring your A-game," said McGrady, who
scored 31 points in Houston's 99-80 win over Cleveland on Thursday
night. "You just have to up your level of intensity and focus and
be ready to match their intensity as well."
Bob Sura had 12 points, 10 rebounds and six assists on his 32nd
birthday, Mike James had 15 points off the bench and Yao Ming added
13 points and eight rebounds for the Rockets, who were particularly
crisp following an impressive win over league-leading Miami on
Houston shot 48 percent, outrebounded Cleveland by 11 and never
trailed after the early minutes of the second quarter.
"We got into a rhythm," Mike James said. "All of a sudden, it
started getting into a flow."
The Cavaliers turned in another woeful performance on the road
after winning in Brendan Malone's coaching debut against Detroit on
Tuesday. Cleveland has lost 10 straight away from home, with its
last win coming Jan. 22 at Golden State.
Drew Gooden led the Cavs with 20 points and six rebounds, while
LeBron James had 19 points and eight assists.
"At home we play with a lot more intensity," said Cleveland
center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who scored only five of his 16 points
after halftime. "On the road we either turn the ball over too much
or we shoot poorly."
McGrady, shooting just 30 percent in the previous five games,
clearly outplayed James as the Rockets were easily the dominant
A prep-to-pro prodigy himself back in 1997, McGrady would
probably never admit to feeling slighted by all the praise heaped
upon James. But he sure played like it Thursday.
After sharing a warm embrace with James moments before tipoff,
McGrady immediately seized control of the game. He drove into the
lane almost every time he touched the ball instead of settling for
fallaway jumpers, coming up with a handful of highlight-worthy
McGrady made a 360-degree spin under the basket for one layup in
the first quarter, and threw down a thunderous left-handed dunk
over Lucious Harris in the second.
"I just wanted to come in this game and stay aggressive -- go to
the hole and not settle for the jumper," said McGrady, who shot
11-of-21. "I'm just trying to get out of that slump. To do that,
you just go to the hole, get your confidence that way and
everything will open up."
Meanwhile, James never really got comfortable -- typical of his
games against Houston.
He shot just 7-of-22 from the field, bringing his four-game
total against the Rockets to 19-of-64 (30 percent). James was held
to a career-low three points in their last game Dec. 29 in
Cleveland. He left that game early after suffering a bone bruise
when an elbow from Dikembe Mutombo caught him over his left eye.
James may have been bothered by McGrady's pesky defense this
time. On the few occasions when they were matched up, McGrady used
his long arms to force James into ill-advised, off-balance shots.
"He's a good defender and he gets a hand up in my face," James
said. "It's really a lot of fun playing against him."
Hard to imagine that, considering his subpar performance.
The Rockets really broke the game open early in the fourth
quarter, going on a 12-0 run that included seven straight points
from Mike James. Houston led 85-65 at that point, and its lead
would never dip below 16 points the rest of the way.
With the Rockets just a point away from 100 in the waning
seconds, the crowd urged them to go for another basket. Instead,
James dribbled out the clock at midcourt, laughing as he exchanged
hugs with his teammates.
Malone, who was an assistant under Van Gundy with the New
York Knicks from 1997-2000, met up with his former boss before and
after the game. Another former Knicks and Rockets head coach, Don
Chaney, was also at the game. ... As part of another throwback
night, the Rockets wore their red and yellow uniforms from the
1970s. The Cavs wore their usual white home uniforms. ... Xzibit,
rap star and host of MTV's "Pimp My Ride", San Diego Chargers
receiver Keenan McCardell and Mathew Knowles, father of Beyonce,
were all part of the sellout crowd. ... The Rockets will face only
Western Conference teams from here on. They finished 18-12 against
East teams this season.