Tracy McGrady says he'll probably return Saturday for the Houston Rockets, who hope their star is on the court as they try to avoid a third straight loss in a matchup with the stumbling San Antonio Spurs.
McGrady, the team's top scorer at 22.8 points per game, has missed the last 11 games with a bone bruise, strained tendon and patellar tendinitis in his left knee. He said Thursday he was "unlikely'' to play against the Spurs because the injury was still painful and limiting his movement.
McGrady, though, made it through the Rockets' nearly two-hour practice Friday and labeled himself ඓ percent'' ready to face the Spurs.
"There's a good chance I could play,'' he said. "It took me a while to really get going because it was sore from (Thursday). Once it loosened up, I was fine.''
The Rockets (20-19) managed to remain competitive without McGrady, going 7-4 in that span, including a season-high five-game winning streak from Jan. 4-11.
That run ended with a home defeat to New Orleans on Sunday, but Houston looked like it was going to quickly return to its winning ways Tuesday. Instead, it committed nine of its 18 turnovers and squandered a 12-point lead in the final 10 minutes en route to a 111-107 loss to Philadelphia.
"We acted like the game was over starting the fourth quarter," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "We're not good enough to act like the game is over. You don't take care of the ball and they beat us to the basket time after time. It's really disappointing that we shot ourselves in the foot the whole fourth quarter."
The Rockets hope McGrady's return will allow them to avert their first three-game losing streak since Dec. 15-20. He's averaged 24.0 points and 7.6 rebounds in 21 games against the Spurs (25-12), although he struggled in his last game against them Nov. 6, going 4-for-14 and finishing with 12 points and nine boards in an 89-81 home win.
McGrady missed the next meeting with a strained right elbow, and the Rockets lost 90-84 on the road Nov. 16.
Center Yao Ming has powered Houston in McGrady's absence, averaging 24.1 points and 10.1 rebounds in the last 11 games. Yao, though, seemed to miss McGrady in the last matchup with San Antonio, scoring 14 points and grabbing nine boards. He was better at home Nov. 6, recording 28 points with 13 rebounds.
The Spurs are coming off a 90-88 loss to Cleveland on Thursday as they completed a 2-2 homestand and fell for the fifth time in 10 games. Manu Ginobili missed a chance to force overtime, failing to connect on a shot in the final seconds after Tony Parker missed a pair of free throws that would have tied it with 29.4 seconds to play.
"We'll just keep pounding at it," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "We'll keep watching film and looking at what we want to do and people will have to do it better because right now we don't have too many people doing what we want them to do very consistently."
Popovich's team is beginning a 14-game stretch in which it plays 12 times on the road, including a nine-game jaunt from Jan. 28-Feb. 13 - the club's annual "Rodeo" road trip.
The Spurs, consistently among the top road teams in the NBA over the past decade, have finished with a winning road record every season since 1996-97. This season, they're 6-8 away from San Antonio, losing five of their last six.
"Hopefully we go out on the road and we are able to focus on basketball and really jell as a team," said Tim Duncan, who had 20 points and 11 rebounds Thursday. "We have everybody back and everybody healthy and it's about time for us to start doing that."
Ginobili finished with 31 points against Cleveland despite missing the final shot. The shooting guard, second on the club with 19.5 points per game, is averaging 24.3 over the last three contests. He had 23 points and five steals in San Antonio's last game at Houston.
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