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McGrady scores 34, Yao nets 24 in first home game since return

HOUSTON -- No one is happier than Tracy McGrady to see Yao Ming healthy again and returning to form.

McGrady scored 34 points and Yao had 24 points and 13 rebounds Friday night in his first home game since returning from a leg injury, leading the Houston Rockets to a 112-91 victory over the New Jersey Nets.

McGrady topped 30 points for the 18th time this season and also had five assists and four rebounds. With Yao back and drawing a crowd down low, McGrady was glad to not be the opponent's only defensive focus for a change.

"We have a low-post presence now, something we've been missing," McGrady said. "It's great to have him back. In order for us to win in the playoffs, we're going to have to have that."

McGrady missed seven games in December with back spasms and returned just before Yao broke his right tibia. The Rockets improved to 16-7 when their two All-Stars play together this season.

"It's never been that we need him or Yao," Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "We need both guys playing at a high level. When they do that, we'll have a chance."

Yao, who missed 32 games, was 6-of-11 from the field and went 12-of-13 from the free throw line, despite playing with tape around the middle and ring fingers on his shooting hand. Yao dislocated his middle finger late in Wednesday's 111-80 win at Boston.

Yao left Friday's game with a bruised left thigh with 3:39 remaining in the third quarter, but came back midway through the fourth. He left for good with 3:47 to play.

"He's got buzzard's luck right now," Van Gundy said. "He couldn't have worse luck than he's having."

Yao asked Van Gundy to re-enter the game in the final quarter, even though the Rockets led 98-72. He played 30 minutes.

"I'm getting closer and closer," Yao said. "I felt good most of the game. I wanted to go out, just for conditioning."

McGrady led the Rockets to a 20-12 record during Yao's absence and carried them again on Friday, even with Yao resembling his old self.

McGrady had 13 at halftime, then hit a runner, a 3-pointer and a baseline jumper to extend Houston's lead to 14. He added a jumper from the wing and went 6-for-9 from the foul line in the third quarter as the Rockets pulled away.

"Tracy is easy to play with," Yao said. "Earlier in the season, we had a good start and now I've had a break. Now, I'm back and I feel like the chemistry is not too far away."

Bostjan Nachbar went 4-for-7 from 3-point range and scored a career-high 29 points for the Nets, who've lost four in a row. Vince Carter had 14, but only five in the second half.

Yao looked like he'd never been gone in the opening minutes, grabbing an offensive rebound and flipping in a short shot 16 seconds after the tip. He had eight points in the first five minutes, adding two free throws and a pair of mid-range shots over Jason Collins.

The Nets started 0-for-6 before Carter sank two difficult perimeter shots over Shane Battier. But the Rockets hit nine of their first 15 shots and built a 25-10 lead.

"We were very ready to play," Van Gundy said.

Nachbar made two 3-pointers during an 11-2 New Jersey run that cut Houston's lead to four early in the second quarter. Yao hit a bank shot and converted a three-point play as Houston rebuilt a double-digit lead.

New Jersey went 15-for-45 in the first half (33 percent) and trailed 52-42 at the break.

"If you don't make your shots, it's going to be a long night," Carter said.

Carter hit a 3-pointer from the wing 20 seconds into the third quarter, but McGrady capped a 9-2 Rockets burst with a 3-pointer that made it 61-47.

The Nets never found their range, missing 13 of 20 shots in the third quarter. As Houston's lead swelled toward 20, Nets coach Lawrence Frank called for his team to foul Houston's Chuck Hayes, a 61.5 percent free-throw shooter. Hayes went 2-for-6 from the line after the three times Frank yelled for the strategy, but the Rockets stayed comfortably ahead.

The Nets hit 10 of 17 shots in the final quarter, but never threatened.

Game notes
Nets F Richard Jefferson checked into the game with 7:52 left in the first half, his first game since Jan. 22 ankle surgery. Jefferson missed five of six shots and scored two points in 16 minutes. ... The Rockets snapped a three-game, home-court losing streak. ... The Rockets improved to 15-1 when they score 100 points this season at the Toyota Center.

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