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Yao's return can't help Rockets overcome James, Cavs

Mar 6, 2007 - 5:02 AM CLEVELAND (Ticker) -- Yao Ming's return did nothing to slow down LeBron James or reverse the Houston Rockets' recent woes.

Yao scored 16 points in his first game since December, but James poured in 32 and Larry Hughes 22 as the Cleveland Cavaliers posted a 91-85 victory.

Back in the lineup for the first time since late December, Yao was expectedly rusty, hitting 5-of-15 shots and committing five turnovers to go along with 11 rebounds and a pair of blocks in 27 minutes.

"Uneven, which is to be expected," Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said of Yao's performance. "But he has to cut down on his turnovers. We can't play well if he goes right back to what he was doing before he got hurt, which is being a high turnover guy. It's impossible to have offensive rhythm."

A five-time All-Star center, the 7-5 Yao had been sidelined since late December with a fracture below his right knee. But after 11 weeks of recovery, Yao returned to practice last weekend and was given medical clearance to return to action.

"I had one practice before and some contact with Jake Tsakalidis, and that helped. But a game is different," Yao said. "I felt OK in the first quarter, but in the second and third quarters I was almost like a high school player on the court. "The fourth quarter was a little bit better. The team played with high energy in the fourth quarter and I could feel the energy of my teammates and it helped me. I can't wait for the next game."

Houston has now dropped four of its last five games, the latest thanks to James.

James had a brilliant all-around game and has scored at least 32 points in Cleveland's past four games. He was 12-of-24 from the field and had 12 rebounds and eight assists in this one.

Playing point guard, Hughes added seven assists and six rebounds.

"They were terrific. I'm not talking about the points, because they both have shown they have the ability to score," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "LeBron with 12 rebounds and eight assists on top of his points and Larry with six rebounds and seven assists. In those two categories to get those types of numbers and the production from those two guys is very good."

Tracy McGrady made a 3-pointer to pull Houston within 88-85 with 36 seconds left, but Hughes responded with three free throws in the final 10 seconds to ice the game.

Hughes put away the game in the closing seconds, but it was Cavaliers' center Zydrunas Ilgauskas who made some clutch plays in the last few minutes to keep Cleveland in front.

Ilgauskas, who scored eight points and had five rebounds, hit a jumper with 3:57 to play to make it 84-78. McGrady closed the deficit to 84-82 with a basket with 1:32 remaining, but Ilgauskas came through at both ends to preserve the lead for Cleveland.

After setting a screen for James, Ilgauskas went to the basket and scored on a rebound of a missed jumper by James with 1:17 to go for an 86-82 lead. On Houston's ensuing possession, Ilgauskas reached in while falling down and poked the ball away from Yao, leading to a fast break and a dunk by James off an alley-oop feed from Hughes that made it 88-82 with 57 seconds left.

"(Ilgauskas) had a big offensive rebound that put us up four and he had a great steal on Yao, hit the ball away and we got a fast break dunk," James said. "So he definitely made some tough plays and some key plays down the stretch."

McGrady scored 25 points but struggled mightily from the field, hitting only 10-of-32 shots. Shane Battier added 15 points for Houston, which committed 16 turnovers that Cleveland converted into 18 points.

"You can't win with 16 turnovers, missed free throws, and two fouls on (Larry) Hughes, one at the end of the shot clock in the first half, and one at the end of the game," Van Gundy said. "There were a number of unintelligent plays that also lead to losing. Hard isn't good enough. Smart, you have to do that as well."

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