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Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Updated: December 30, 8:50 AM ET
Elbow leaves James with bruised eye

Associated Press

CLEVELAND -- Sprawled across the Gund Arena floor, LeBron James held his head. Cavaliers fans held their breath.

LeBron James
Small Forward
Cleveland Cavaliers
28 25.2 7.1 7.3 .491 .764

In a split second, James crashed to the court and a season filled with playoff promise and possibilities had seemingly become another Cleveland sports calamity.

"He's tough, so I knew he was hurt bad when he didn't get up," Cavs guard Jeff McInnis said. "I just pray he's OK."

James bruised a bone in his left eye Wednesday night when he was accidentally elbowed in the face by Houston center Dikembe Mutombo in the first half of the Rockets' 98-87 win over the Cavaliers.

James was moving across the lane on defense when he ran into the 7-foot-2 Mutombo, whose sharp elbows have dropped more than a few NBA players over the years.

"I warned LeBron before the game to watch out," said Cavaliers guard Eric Snow, who played with Mutombo in Philadelphia. "I've seen him take out teammates and opponents. You have to be aware around him."

James was taken to the Cleveland Clinic for X-rays and a CT scan. He was not available for comment after returning from the hospital. The team said it will have test results and an update on his condition Thursday.

As he walked into the Cavs' locker room with a hooded sweatshirt pulled over his head, James looked like a beaten boxer. He didn't seem too eager to get to his 20th birthday party, which was being thrown at a downtown club.

Mutombo felt bad about what happened.

"I never saw him," Mutombo said. "The next thing I know, boom, he was laying on the floor. I hope it's not too bad."

Tracy McGrady scored 34 points, Yao Ming added 20 and Juwan Howard 17 for the Rockets, who didn't have to contend with James after halftime and snapped a five-game losing streak on the road.

After he was nailed by Mutombo, James immediately dropped to the floor, covered his eyes and kicked his feet in obvious pain while lying face down as play continued. When Houston scored, the officials stopped the action and Cleveland's medical staff rushed out to help James, who had to be assisted off the court as he held a towel against his head.

The sellout crowd in Gund Arena fell silent as James walked off.

"That was too bad about LeBron," said Rockets guard Bob Sura, a former Cavaliers player. "Man, he brings energy into this building. It was never like that when I played here."

James was coming off a 40-point performance in a win at Atlanta on Tuesday. He's averaging 25.2 points but had a career-low three points -- all on free throws -- with three rebounds and five assists before getting hurt.

McGrady scored 22 points in the second half and 12 in the fourth quarter, including the Rockets' last seven over the final 2:03.

Trailing 80-69 early in the fourth, the Cavaliers began chipping away. After a pair of 3-pointers, Drew Gooden's jumper brought Cleveland within 86-83 with 5:41 left. Gooden scored again to make it 91-87 with 2:20 left, when McGrady put an end to the Cavs' comeback.

McGrady hit a jumper, made two free throws and nailed a long 3-pointer with 32 seconds left to close the scoring. The Cavaliers, sorely missing James, missed three shots and made two turnovers in the final two minutes.

Game notes
James has time to rest up. Cleveland doesn't play again until Monday at Charlotte. … Before the game, Cavs coach Paul Silas was asked what he bought James for his birthday. "Nothing yet," Silas said. "We'll see. If he has another 40-point game, he's going to get something real good." … Newly acquired Rockets G David Wesley was back at Gund Arena for the second time in four nights. Wesley was traded to Houston on Monday by New Orleans, which lost to the Cavs on Sunday. Jim Jackson, who was part of the deal, hasn't reported to the Hornets and has been suspended by the club. … Sura had a season-high 12 assists. … James missed three games last year with a sprained ankle.