Daily Confidential

Tracy McGrady's rusty return to the Houston Rockets lineup wasn't enough to lift a team missing its leading scorer.

McGrady and the Rockets look to rebound from one of their worst performances of the season and better cope with the absence of Yao Ming when they visit the New Jersey Nets on Wednesday.

McGrady took advantage of the two-day Christmas break, returning to the lineup Tuesday after missing seven games with back spasms. His return came just one game after Yao fractured a bone under his right knee in Saturday's 98-93 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Despite the rest, the guard shot 7-for-22 (31.8 percent) and committed a season-high seven turnovers, including two crucial ones in the final two minutes, as Houston (16-12) lost 81-76 at Indiana - its lowest scoring output of the season.

``It's pretty tough being out,'' McGrady said. ``This league is too good to come back and think you're going to have an impact right away. I thought I did some things great out there, but for the most part, I was a little rusty, fatigued. Made a lot of fatigue mistakes and it's just going to take me a few games to get into game shape.''

Houston went 2-5 without McGrady, and Yao's absence could have an even greater impact on a team hoping to make the playoffs after injuries to the two stars doomed last season's prospects.

Yao's career-best 25.9 points per game lead the Rockets, and he had been averaging 31.2 points in the first six games McGrady missed.

Likewise, McGrady might have to pick up his scoring with Yao out. The center is being replaced by 40-year-old Dikembe Mutombo, who managed only four points and five rebounds Tuesday. Mutombo's averages of 1.8 points and 3.2 rebounds this season are career lows.

McGrady had 35 points in the Rockets' last visit to New Jersey - a 99-91 win on Nov. 12, 2005. New Jersey won the other meeting last season, 90-77 on March 13 in Houston.

The Nets (11-17) may not have any sympathy for the Rockets, as they have dropped two straight games since center Nenad Krstic was lost for the season with a torn ACL.

Vince Carter missed a pull-up jumper while defended by Rasheed Wallace with 1.5 seconds left in New Jersey's 92-91 loss at Detroit on Tuesday.

Nets coach Lawrence Frank argued Wallace committed a foul on the play and had to be restrained by assistant coaches after the final buzzer.

Point guard Jason Kidd agreed with Frank.

``We come to work, and we work extremely hard at this, only for the officials to screw us,'' Kidd said. ``We fought, but that doesn't mean anything when you have the officials take over the game like that. You go with the Three Blind Mice, and it's just sad that Tom (Washington) screwed up that game for us.''

New Jersey now hopes to avoid losing four straight games for the first time since a season-high six-game losing streak Nov. 18-28.

To do that the Nets may need to find an inside presence to replace Krstic, who is second on the team with 16.4 points and 6.8 rebounds.

New Jersey has used forward Jason Collins at center for the last two games, and he scored a season-high 14 points Tuesday.

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