Rockets seek series clincher in Utah

Rockets seek series clincher in Utah

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

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By CHRIS DUNCAN AP Sports Writer

HOUSTON (AP) -- The Houston Rockets played their best game of the postseason at home on Monday night to move within one victory of their first series win in 10 years.

Now comes the hard part -- trying to close out the Utah Jazz on Thursday night in Salt Lake City, where they lost Games 3 and 4 by double digits.

"In our minds, we think we can make up for those mistakes we made in Games 3 and 4," said Tracy McGrady, who had 26 points and 16 assists Monday night in a 96-92 victory. "At the same time, as we're thinking it, we've got to go out and we've got to do it."

Before Game 6 even starts, the Rockets have to convince themselves that it's a "must win." Game 7 would be Saturday in Houston, but the Rockets would rather not take any chances.

"There's no one in this locker room saying we have two games to get it done," McGrady said. "We know that we have to take advantage of every opportunity to win a ballgame. We're really fired up for Game 6. It's a huge opportunity for us."

And for McGrady himself.

The seven-time All-Star is 0-5 in playoff series and he's ready for another round of hearing about it from the merciless fans in Utah.

"The only time I really hear things is when I'm sitting on the bench and there's a guy heckling me: 'McGrady, you're 0-5! You're 0-5 in the playoffs! You're going to be 0-6 this year!"' he said. "I don't give a damn what they say. They can talk about my mom, they can talk about whatever they want to talk about. I've still got a game to play."

On Tuesday, McGrady was more concerned about his sore right hip, which he bruised on a drive to the basket in the first quarter of Game 5.

He said if Game 6 was Wednesday, the hip "could be an issue." But with an extra day to rest, he thinks it'll be 100 percent by Thursday night.

McGrady promised he won't stop attacking the basket, the key to Monday's victory. His aggressive drives created open perimeter shots for his teammates and the Rockets went 12-for-24 from 3-point range.

"Those are the shots we're getting," said Shane Battier, who went 5-for-7 on 3-pointers Monday night. "It's just a matter of stepping up with confidence and everybody on this team knows that whoever takes that shot, it's a good shot for us."

All the Rockets have to do now is figure out how to make them in Utah.

Houston went 12-for-39 from long range in Games 3 and 4 and the Jazz pulled away in the second halves of both.

The Rockets shot 47 percent (37 of 79) overall on their home floor Monday and McGrady thinks their renewed confidence will carry over to Game 6.

"It was just a matter of time for us to start shooting the ball well," he said. "When you shoot the ball well, it carries over onto the defensive end because you have more of a concentration level, more energy."

Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy didn't see it that way on Monday night.

The Jazz also shot 47 percent (37 of 79) and scored inside as easily as they did in Salt Lake City.

"They're carving us up good," Van Gundy said. "Part of that is they're a good offense. They have some matchup advantages. We can also do better. It needs to get better."

Carlos Boozer, Utah's leading scorer, has been the biggest challenge. The 6-foot-9, 266-pound Boozer scored 41 points in Game 2 and 26 on Monday night, repeatedly sidestepping or shooting over 7-foot-6 Yao Ming.

Van Gundy is also worried how easily the Jazz have dribbled through Houston's defense for easy baskets.

"We have a lot of corrections to make and we've got to get our energy-and-effort guys playing with energy and effort," Van Gundy said. "We've got to get all five guys committed on more possessions and defend the way we have to defend to win."

The Rockets think a fast start is vital on Thursday night. They haven't won in Utah since March 2005 and trailed at halftime in both games there in the series.

"When you go up to Utah, we don't have much room for error,"

said Juwan Howard, who scored 12 points on Monday night. "The starters have to set the tone with the energy out there. We can't come out lackadaisical. We've got to be the aggressor."

The Jazz have won 55 of 73 playoff games in Salt Lake City since 1992, when they moved into EnergySolutions Arena, the former Delta Center.

"We're definitely going to need that home cooking," Boozer said. "Obviously, our backs are against the wall, so it's going to be a dogfight."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-05-01-07 1625MDT

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