Houston 108, Denver 97

DENVER, March 2 (AP) -- With ice wrapped around both knees and a towel draped around his neck, an exhausted Dikembe Mutombo felt his age.

Earlier, though, he didn't.

"The old man can still rebound,'' Mutombo said after becoming the oldest player in NBA history to record over 20 rebounds in a game, finishing with 22 boards in the Houston Rockets' 108-97 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.

Mutombo, who will turn 41 in June, is the first player to reach 20 rebounds in a game past the age of 40.

"They had all these young guys around me,'' he said. "I still got to the ball.''

Denver's Allen Iverson found the stat hard to believe - not that Mutombo grabbed 22 boards but that he's as old as he is.

"He's 40?'' laughed Iverson, who had 19 points. "Man, he's doing great. What can you say about him? They lose a great player like Yao Ming (to a fractured tibia), and have a great backup center like that. You talk about him being 40 years old, he's got many more years to play.''

Tracy McGrady scored 28 points, Juwan Howard had 18, Luther Head 17 and Shane Battier 15 - all on 3-pointers - as the Rockets beat the Nuggets at what Denver does best - running up and down the floor.

Before the game, Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said he was looking for more energy out of his team and the Rockets responded by eclipsing 100 points, something they hadn't done in their previous four games.

The Nuggets, who scored just 14 points in the third quarter, are now 0-19 when they fail to reach 100 points.

"When we play defense, we win,'' Van Gundy said. "We will score plenty of points.''

Carmelo Anthony scored 30 points and Marcus Camby tied a season high with seven blocked shots.

Denver coach George Karl was frustrated with his team for settling for jumpers against the Rockets.

"You are not going to beat good defensive teams by taking bad shots,'' Karl said.

The Rockets built an 18-point lead in the third quarter, and didn't allow Denver to scale the lead down to single digits. The closest the Nuggets got was 11 points.

"We played with a great deal of energy,'' McGrady said.

Coming into the contest, Mutombo's season high in rebounds was 19. The only other 40-year-old NBA player with 19 boards in a game was Karl Malone on Nov. 6, 2003, when he was with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Mutombo was older than Malone when he had his first 19-rebound game of the season against Utah on Jan. 5. He followed it up with another against the Lakers five days later.

"Mutombo getting 22 rebounds was huge,'' Van Gundy said. "That helped us win the rebounding battle (by a 51-40 margin). Lately we've been getting killed on the boards.''

McGrady had 21 points in the first half, and it could've been more had he not tried to get his teammates involved.

"I had it rolling,'' he said. "I wanted to set the tone for my team and they followed.''

Notes: Houston G Bonzi Wells didn't play Friday night due to a sore right foot. ... Van Gundy wasn't sure how close Ming was to returning to the court. Ming has been on the inactive list for the last 31 games with a fractured tibia on his right leg. "The doctors haven't told me anything,'' he said. "I really don't know when he will be better.'' ... Denver G Steve Blake had 14 points and six assists. ... Anthony drew a technical foul late in the first half after he slammed the ball and emphatically pumped his fist in the direction of a Rockets player. ... Howard had a season-high seven assists.


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