It ruined the Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant pairing in Los Angeles, but Tracy McGrady won't let it derail Houston's title hopes.
With McGrady and Yao Ming, the Rockets resemble the Shaq-Kobe Lakers - one team, two superstars. One player has to be ``the man,'' and O'Neal and Bryant both demanded that role.
McGrady doesn't care.
``I never did,'' he said. ``I had no choice (in Orlando) but to go out and carry the team, because I didn't have Grant Hill. When I came here, I've got a big guy that I can go throw the ball to and he gets 25 shots a night and I could defer to him.''
When McGrady joined Orlando from Toronto, it was thought he would be Hill's sidekick, but Hill never stayed healthy.
McGrady turned into one of the league's most explosive scorers while playing for some bad teams, but he's never advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs. He said he believes the way to make it happen is by riding on the back of his 7-foot-6 center, who McGrady says is playing at an ``MVP-caliber level.''
``I'm all about winning. I'm a very unselfish player,'' he said. ``For me, it's all about getting Ws. I've won scoring championships. I don't care about none of that stuff no more. I'm at a point in my career where I just want to win ballgames. So if that's going out averaging 12, 15 points and we're winning ballgames, so be it.''
Not everyone agrees that a player who won two scoring titles and is one of league's most talented offensive players is best served being a No. 2 option.
``For (Houston) to go to the next level, Tracy McGrady cannot be the second man on the team,'' announcer Doug Collins said during TNT's telecast of the Rockets' game against the Bulls last Thursday. ``He has to be the dominant guy on this team and not run away from the responsibility of being their best player.''
McGrady's way is working now. Yao has dominated, and the Rockets, who struggled last season when both players frequently were hurt, look like a contender in the tough Southwest Division.
``I think it's death with either one, because they're both capable of winning the basketball game,'' Knicks coach Isiah Thomas said. ``It's a matter of pick your poison.''
ROAD-TOUGH SPURS: Even with his veteran, playoff-tested roster, Gregg Popovich took time during training camp and early in the season to stress the importance of stealing wins on the road.
The team listened. The Spurs have won their first six games away from San Antonio for the first time in franchise history.
They even won at Arco Arena, traditionally one of the toughest arenas for the visitors, last Sunday night despite Brent Barry leaving the building with 12 stitches in his head after the physical contest.
``We focus in as a team on the road knowing that not a whole lot of people are rooting for us except the guys on our bench,'' Barry said. ``It's a bunker mentality.''
That's fine with Popovich. He knows the young players on his roster can learn the importance of winning away from home by watching players such as Barry, Tim Duncan, Bruce Bowen and Tony Parker.
``We've always been a good road team,'' Popovich said. ``At this point I attribute it to mental toughness, guys who have been here. The experience they have really serves them well.''
New Sacramento coach Eric Musselman reminds his team to take care of business at home, because it's so difficult doing so once leaving town.
``First, you've got to gain confidence,'' Musselman said. ``You have to come so mentally prepared and have to limit your distractions on the road. You have to be self-disciplined. Everything is different.''
His impressions of San Antonio's road success?
``They have veterans who have been through the playoffs where you have to win playoff games,'' Musselman said. ``This is their life. They travel around and sell out. Everywhere they're a draw.''
RUN IT UP: A dismal start seemed to indicate a long season in Boston, and heated up talk that Doc Rivers wouldn't be there to see the end of it.
Then the Celtics started running and just as quickly started winning.
Boston won three straight following a 1-6 start, averaging 118 points after scoring 95.6 per game during those six losses.
``We want to try to take advantage of what we've got,'' All-Star forward Paul Pierce said. ``We've got some speedy point guards. I think we can cause turnovers. With our lack of depth at the big man position, we're forced to use smaller lineups. We've got to take advantage of it.''
The Celtics are quick to acknowledge their lack of interior strength, but hope to get around it with their speed. They have plenty of guards who can push the tempo in Sebastian Telfair, Rajon Rondo and Delonte West.
But it looks as if Boston will struggle when it can't play at the pace it wants. The Celtics scored 83 points at Charlotte on Wednesday. And sure enough, their winning streak ended with a loss to the Bobcats.
``It's going to be up and down, but I would like to win more of the up and down games,'' Rivers said last week. ``We're playing hard, guys are playing together for the most part. Little stretches that haven't allowed us to win games, and when we eliminate them, we win the game. It's been a pretty simple formula for us thus far, and we have to just continue to do that.''
SERIOUS ABOUT SOCKS: If Eduardo Najera takes a few minutes longer than his Denver teammates to get dressed, it's because of the quirky way in which he wears his socks.
The Nuggets forward doesn't pull his ankle-high socks all the way over his foot, instead leaving extra material hanging over his toes, then folding that over the top of his foot to make a double layer of protection under his shoelaces.
``I don't get blisters,'' he said with a grin. ``That's why I've got the prettiest toes in the league.''
He even admits to the occasional pedicure to pamper his feet. Najera's not the only one using this sock routine: He learned it from teammate Andre Miller, a longtime sock folder himself.
COACHSPEAK: ``He doesn't refer to himself in the third person. He hasn't given himself a nickname. It's really refreshing.'' - Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, on Yao Ming.
AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in Oakland, Calif. contributed to this report.

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