As 2007 came to a close, both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Rockets were underachieving as their big-name players failed to deliver. Just over a month later, LeBron James has the Cavaliers in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, while Tracy McGrady has the Rockets closing in a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Cleveland and Houston both look to continue their impressive starts to the new year as they meet Thursday at the Toyota Center.
On New Year's Eve, the Cavaliers (27-20) were tied with Philadelphia for ninth place in the East at 14-17, while the Rockets (28-20) were 10th in the West at 15-16.
Since Jan. 1, however, Cleveland has the league's second-best record at 13-3, while Houston is 13-4. The Cavs have jumped all the way to fourth place in the East, and the Rockets have moved a game back of Golden State for the West's final playoff spot.
"I think as a team, we are playing with a lot of confidence and we are playing together so well right now," said Cleveland's Daniel Gibson after Tuesday's 114-113 victory over Boston.
The Cavs have won four of their last five, and improved to 2-1 against the Celtics.
"It definitely means something,'' James said about beating the team with the league's best record. "We want to continue to play well and we want to continue to win. We know we can play with any team in the NBA.''
James had another outstanding game on Tuesday, finishing with 33 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds and five steals. The four-time All-Star is averaging 35.0 points, 10.0 boards and 6.4 assists in his last five games.
James had 32 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in his last game against the Rockets, a 91-85 victory on March 5. The No. 1 overall pick of the 2003 draft is averaging 30.3 points, 8.0 boards and 5.5 assists in his last four games against Houston.
The Cavs and Rockets split the season series in 2006-07, with each team winning at home.
Houston is coming off a 92-86 victory over Minnesota on Monday, its fourth straight win.
McGrady had 26 points, including five in the final 70 seconds, to help the Rockets improve to 8-1 since he returned from missing 11 games with a sore left knee. McGrady is averaging 24.8 points and 7.8 assists in four games since returning to Houston's starting lineup.
"Tracy is getting better. He's still not in the greatest of shape missing all that time, but he played the whole second half tonight and you saw how he finished,'' Rockets coach Rick Adelman said.
McGrady struggled in the two games against the Cavaliers last season, though, scoring just 32 points on 13-of-37 shooting in after averaging 33.1 points in his previous 13 games against them.
Yao Ming had 40 points and 16 rebounds in the two games against Cleveland last season. Yao, the first overall pick of the 2002 draft, is averaging 28.4 points and 14.8 boards in his last five home games.
Copyright 2007 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited