Updated: Jan. 9, 2007, 12:35 PM ET

No Yao? Wow, Rockets are 6-2

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.

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.

Questions, please.

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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Grin Shares
Luke Walton
David Zalubowski/AP Photo
Nuggets guard Allen Iverson (23 points) jokes with Bucks forward Ruben Patterson (29 points, 12 rebounds) during Denver's 104-92 win.

News And Notes

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

Making Teammates Better? Hogwash
Kobe Bryant

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.

Full John Hollinger chat Insider

Records At A Glance

With Or Without Yao

McGrady heats up, targets the Bulls

Rising Over Deng
Tracy McGrady
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.

Extreme Behavior
Marcus Camby

Monday's Best
Nuggets center Marcus Camby: That was a relief. Don't want A.I. crackin' before Melo returns. So the Cambyman's 19 points, 15 boards and seven blocks were big in a 104-92 win over the Redd-less Bucks, snapping a five-game losing streak.

Kirk Hinrich

Monday's Worst
Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich: That 1-for-11 outing did not help Chicago. Shot .474 in November and .414 in December. This trend not looking good. Maybe he can take a few weeks off that he didn't get this summer and take in a KU game. Say hi to Collison. Buy a foot massager at a post-Christmas sale.

Quote of the Day
" I knew I was going to take over."
-- Rockets guard Tracy McGrady, describing his mindset entering the fourth quarter. He then scored 15 of his 31 points, en route to a road win over the Bulls.

See how all 56 who played stacked up

-- Andrew Ayres

Van Gundy Sticks To The Point

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

It Happened On This Day

January 9, 1972
Milwaukee, led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 120-104, ending the Lakers' consecutive win streak at 33, the longest winning streak in major league sports history.
January 9, 1947
Don Martin of Providence became the first NBA player to ever score 40 points in a game, in a matchup against Cleveland.
January 9, 1996
Toronto established an NBA record by becoming the first team ever not to hit a foul shot during the course of a game. The Raptors are 0-of-3 from the line during a 92-91 loss to visiting Charlotte.


A Full Arenas

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
George Gervin 26.2
Gilbert Arenas 22.5
Alex English 21.5
John Drew 20.7
>since 1966

Most Consecutive Seasons with Increase in PPG Active Players, Streaks

Michael Redd, 6
Joe Johnson, 6
Gilbert Arenas, 5
Yao Ming, 5
Earl Boykins, 5
>includes 2006-07

-- Peter D. Newmann, ESPN Research


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