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Wednesday October 4, 2006 7:44 PM


He's Back


McGrady feels poised for big season after dealing with back injury




Damien Pierce
Rockets.com Staff Writer


AUSTIN -- Before reporting to training camp or taking a three-hour bus ride to the Hill Country, Tracy McGrady was playing video games inside the NBA Store in Manhattan.

McGrady, by his own admission, didn't win a single game on NBA Live 07 against Spurs point guard Tony Parker or anyone else in the building during his promotional appearance.

The good news is that he was impressed with the computerized version of T-Mac.

"It's incredible how realistic the game is," said McGrady, who is the cover boy of the video game. "I have hot streaks on the perimeter and I'm a high flyer on the game."

And that, in a nut shell, is exactly what McGrady wants to get back to doing this season.

McGrady, a six-time All-Star, was back on the practice court Wednesday afternoon at the University of Texas' Cooley Pavilion after missing 34 games of the 2005-06 season with a nagging back injury.

He drilled jumpers. He pulled up for floaters. And, of course, he attacked the bucket.

Not everything swished through the basket, McGrady admitted, in his second workout of training camp as he gets himself back into the flow of the game.

McGrady, however, doesn't feel any pain in his back and believes he is poised to reestablish himself as one of the most prolific scorers in the NBA.

He just needs to knock off the rust.

"We're doing a lot more (scrimmaging) and I actually think that's good for me because I've been out since March," McGrady said. "It will get me in great game-shape right away with all the banging. I can just see how my body reacts to all of that because I haven't done it since March."

Despite constantly informing reporters that his back is healed and he's fully recovered heading into the season, how McGrady holds up in training camp will continue to be perhaps the most closely-watched topic in training camp.

McGrady dealt with back problems throughout the 2005-06 season before having his year end on March 8, missing the final 20 games of the regular season.

In an effort to avoid a similar finish, the 6-foot-8 scoring machine spent the offseason doing exercises to strengthen his back and lighten his body.

McGrady said he has dropped about 15 pounds since the summer, down to about 225 pounds.

"I feel great out there," he said. "I feel light and I feel quicker. The only thing I'm trying to catch up with is my rhythm and my timing when I make moves. Everything is off. It's been a while since I played. I almost forgot how to play ball."

His teammates haven't noticed.

"Tracy is playing hard," swingman Bonzi Wells said. "He can get by anybody."

Besides simply returning the court, McGrady must get acclimated to playing more minutes at the guard positions since the team acquired Shane Battier and Wells in the offseason. Both Battier and Wells are forwards, although Wells can play some shooting guard.

The altered role could force McGrady to chase more guards on the defensive end and bring the basketball up the court on more occasions.

So far, the extra running hasn't bothered the Rockets' star.

"Usually, I'm aching through the first few days of training camp," McGrady said. "I feel good right now, I really do. It's good to be playing."

McGrady is hardly the only one glad that he's back on the court.

"It's feels good to be playing with him again," star center Yao Ming said. "He makes the game much easier with his shooting and his passing. He will make our season much easier."