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Friday, January 06, 2006

T-Mac and King James Play "Can You Top This?" at the Q

Tracy McGrady (34 points, five rebounds, five assists, two steals) outdueled LeBron James (32 points, nine rebounds, five assists, one steal) on Thursday night, leading the Houston Rockets to a 90-81 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. The theme song of the night should have been "Anything you can do, I can do better." McGrady scored 23 of the Rockets' 49 first half points and Houston led by 14 at intermission. James countered by pouring in 16 points in the third quarter on sizzling 7-8 field goal shooting, but the Cavs only shaved three points off of the Rockets' lead.

James cooled off in the fourth quarter, but Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Donyell Marshall picked up the slack and the Cavs pulled to within three points, 79-76, after Ilgauskas' jump shot with 4:36 left; that capped a 24-10 Cavs' run that started with less than three minutes remaining in the third quarter and the Rockets enjoying a seemingly secure 69-52 lead. Rafer Alston and Dikembe Mutombo combined to nail three of four free throws to extend the lead to six and, after Ilgauskas hit another jumper to trim the margin to four, McGrady scored on a gorgeous drive with 2:03 left to put the Rockets up six; the Cavs never threatened again after that shot.

Cleveland misfired from long distance throughout the game, shooting only 7-29 (.241) on three pointers. Each team suffered noticeably due to the absence of a key starter: Mutombo started in place of injured All-Star center Yao Ming and failed to make a field goal, although he did contribute eight rebounds and one blocked shot; Damon Jones scored three points on 1-7 field goal shooting while replacing Larry Hughes, who will soon have surgery on his broken finger.

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Notes From Courtside:

Watching Mutombo warm up you would never have guessed that he would fail to connect on a single field goal. He made several jump shots in a row from the 12-15 foot range, alternating between the left elbow and the left baseline. His shots had a fluidity and arc that they normally lack when he shoots during games.

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Stromile Swift jumps with breathtaking quickness and simply oozes athleticism. It is hard to understand how he can play 23 minutes and only have six points and five rebounds. He tantalizes with his physical tools and if he ever develops the mental focus to bring high energy every night he could be quite a force. Of course, since he has been in the league for several years it is reasonable to question if he will ever reach his full potential.

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James launches a lot of "Oh no--good shot!" field goal attempts--shots that look like they are forced or off balance but that he makes with amazing consistency. He shot 13-19 from the field, including 3-7 on three pointers. James' repertoire on Thursday included a sweeping hook shot, a fadeaway from deep in the left corner and several power drives that resulted in made baskets or trips to the free throw line.

posted by David Friedman @ 12:32 AM

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