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Melo's late jumper lifts Nuggets over Rockets

HOUSTON (AP) -- The Houston Rockets are starting to wonder what
else can go wrong.

Plagued by injuries since the preseason, the Rockets lost Tracy
McGrady to a back injury again on Sunday night, then were beaten by
Denver 92-90 on Carmelo Anthony's last-second shot from the
baseline.

McGrady, who had topped 30 points in Houston's last five games,
missed a long jumper in the final seconds of the first half, then
crumpled to the floor, grabbing his back and screaming in pain as
the buzzer sounded.

The six-time All-Star was taken off the floor on a stretcher and
rushed to a hospital. McGrady missed eight games earlier this
season with back spasms and the Rockets lost them all.

Rockets spokesman Nelson Luis said after the game that McGrady
was getting an MRI and would be re-evaluated on Monday.

"The doctor told me he thinks it's a bad back spasm and
hopefully, he'll be OK," owner Les Alexander said after the game.
"He doesn't think it's anything serious that will keep him out for
a long time."

Earl Watson scored 20 and Anthony finished with 19 for the
Nuggets, who played most of the final three quarters without Kenyon
Martin, who strained his back.

The Nuggets have had their own injury problems -- Marcus Camby is
out with a broken finger and Nene is expected to miss the season
with a torn ACL.

"I'm not going to argue about who misses who the most," said
Denver coach George Karl. "They have to get healthy and we have to
get healthy."

With Houston up 88-87, Francisco Elson missed a medium-range
jumper with 53 seconds left, but Anthony grabbed the key rebound,
setting up Earl Boykins' go-ahead 3-pointer.

Late in Houston's next possession, Stromile Swift picked up a
loose ball in the lane and was fouled by Andre Miller with 19.2
seconds left. Swift made both free throws to tie the game at
90-all.

The 6-foot-8 Anthony, guarded by the 6-9 McGrady in the first
half, got the ball in the corner and rattled in the game-winner
over 6-1 David Wesley.

"It was a simple play and they let 'Melo have a size
advantage," Karl said. "We knew Carmelo could get the ball over
him."

Out of a time out, Jon Barry inbounded to Swift, who lost the
ball as the buzzer sounded.

"This is the worst I've ever seen," Barry said of Houston's
rash of injuries. "Nothing really happened with Tracy. He just
came down. It was just bad luck."

Anthony, who said he struggled with back problems when he played
at Syracuse, was concerned about McGrady after the game.

"I know him pretty well and it hurts me to see him like that,"
Anthony said. "Once you have back problems, they're not going to
go away the next day or the next week. If I could tell him
anything, I'd just say relax and rest it."

The Rockets actually shot better on Sunday without McGrady,
going 11-for-20 (55 percent) in the third quarter after shooting 35
percent in the first half.

"With Tracy going down, we played harder," said Wesley, who
scored 15. "We didn't necessarily play smarter in spots. But I
think we actually played a lot harder with a little more
inspiration."

The Nuggets still led 67-62 heading to the fourth, but a steal
by Luther Head and a fast-break layup by Rafer Alston put Houston
up 83-82. Alston scored a season-high 24.

The Nuggets trailed by as many as nine in the first half, but
rallied for a 40-37 lead at the break.

McGrady's painful departure added to a remarkably long list of
injuries and absences that have ravaged the Rockets' season.

Yao is out at least another month after toe surgery to remove an
infection and Juwan Howard served a one-game suspension Sunday
after a confrontation with Toronto's Mike James on Friday. Guard
Derek Anderson has been out since Dec. 12 with a calf strain and
guards Alston and Barry recently returned from leg injuries that
kept them out a total of 34 games.

"This has been bad," Barry said. "It seems like we can't get
any consistency with any group of guys we have. That makes it that
much more difficult."<
^Notes:@The Rockets re-signed rookie guard John Lucas III to a
10-day contract on Sunday, four days after waiving him. Lucas, son
of former Rocket John Lucas, Jr., did not play. ...Swift and Martin
were the top two overall picks in the 2000 NBA draft. ...The
Nuggets were held under 100 points for just the second time in
their last 12 games.