Houston 100, Utah 86

HOUSTON, Jan. 5 (AP) -- Tracy McGrady seemed particularly inspired by Dikembe Mutombo's pregame pep talk to the Houston Rockets on Friday night.

McGrady scored a season-high 44 points, topping 30 points for the fourth consecutive game, and the Rockets beat the Utah Jazz 100-86 for their fifth straight victory.

McGrady hit 14 of 31 shots and went 13-for-16 from the free-throw line, reaching 40 points for the 39th time in his career.

Mutombo grabbed a season-best 19 rebounds after a quick motivational speech before the game, reminding the Rockets of their season-opening 107-97 loss in Utah.

"I told them don't expect anything to be easy tonight,'' Mutombo said. "This team beat us so well in Utah. Somehow, we had to find something to give back to them.''

McGrady was that "something'' from the start, scoring 11 points during the Rockets' 15-3 run to open the game. He swished two 3-pointers in the first 2 minutes, then blew by Derek Fisher for an easy layup. McGrady ended the burst with a 3-pointer from the wing, confidently nodding as he trotted down the court.

"I tried to set the tone right away,'' McGrady said. "I wanted to let my teammates know that this is how it's going to be until the final buzzer ends it.''

McGrady fell four points shy of his high game in three seasons with Houston, set against Dallas in December 2004. McGrady's career high is 62 points, accomplished in his final season with Orlando.

He missed seven games in December with back spasms, but has looked as healthy as ever in Houston's past four games, averaging 36 points.

"If I've got it rolling like that and my guys are knocking down shots, we can beat the best of them in this league,'' McGrady said.

Mutombo had a double-digit rebound total for the fifth straight game. The 40-year-old center has ably filled in for the injured Yao Ming, out at least six weeks with a broken right leg. The Rockets are 5-1 without Yao.

Carlos Boozer had 15 points and 17 rebounds and Deron Williams scored 19 points for Utah, which never recovered from Houston's game-opening burst.

"They took us on early and put us out of the game,'' Utah coach Jerry Sloan said.

The Jazz missed six of their first seven shots before Fisher's 3-pointer with 8:15 left in the first quarter. Utah missed 17 of its first 24 shots.

"They did a terrific job in taking us out of our offense and all we took were outside shots,'' Sloan said. "If you don't run your offense, then you had better hit all your shots, and we didn't.''

McGrady scored 17 points in the first, but missed consecutive off-balance shots before going to the bench for a rest. The Jazz trailed 29-19 after the opening quarter.

Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy used mostly reserves for the first 5 minutes of the second quarter, but the Jazz could only get within nine. McGrady returned with 6:46 left in the half and, after Rafer Alston hit a 3-pointer, McGrady scored again to put Houston up 42-28.

McGrady missed a 3-pointer, but Mutombo grabbed the offensive rebound, then found McGrady for another driving layup that put the Rockets up 48-32.

Utah finished the half with a 9-1 run, capped by Williams' banked-in 3-pointer from 33 feet at the buzzer that cut Houston's lead to 54-45. McGrady had 27 points at the break.

Fisher went 1-for-6 in the first half and rookie Ronnie Brewer started the second half in his place. Brewer promptly converted a three-point play to draw the Jazz within six.

The Rockets answered with a 14-3 run that McGrady finished with a smooth turnaround over Brewer. The Rockets' lead reached 73-53 before Brewer's second three-point play triggered a 15-4 Utah burst.

Houston rebuilt a 12-point lead by the end of the third quarter and stayed comfortably ahead as McGrady kept pouring in points. He swished a baseline fadeaway over Matt Harpring at the 6-minute mark to put Houston up 95-81, then drained another shot from the same side over Andrei Kirilenko to extend it to 98-81.

Appropriately, McGrady had the ball as the buzzer sounded and gently laid it on the court as the final seconds ticked off.

Notes: Boozer finished two rebounds shy of his season high, set against Houston in the opener. Boozer has 25 double-doubles this season. ... Rockets reserve Kirk Snyder was in uniform, but did not play. Snyder has been out since breaking his right hand against New York on Nov. 21. He practiced with a bandage on his hand Friday and Van Gundy said Snyder wasn't ready to play.


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