"Well, we hoped he had a good time in New Orleans," Battier said.
It was the Rockets, though, who gave James the headache.
Rafer Alston scored 22 points, Yao Ming added 16 points and 14 rebounds, and Houston tied a team record Tuesday night with its ninth straight road win, 93-85 over the Cleveland Cavaliers, who wasted a triple-double from James.
The Rockets entered the NBA's unofficial midseason interruption as the Western Conference's hottest team and they didn't cool off, winning their ninth in a row to improve to 18-3 since Jan. 4.
"We don't want to get tired of winning," said Tracy McGrady, who added 17 points on just 6-of-21 shooting. "A lot of people probably thought the break would be bad for us because we had so much momentum, so much swagger. But everybody came back and we said, 'Let's start it off right."'
And so they did by digging in on defense. Houston last reeled off nine victories in a row on the road in 1993.
Luis Scola added 15 points as the Rockets, one of the league's stingiest teams, won for the 12th time in 13 games. The one constant during the spurt has been a defensive mind-set that was missing early this season.
"It just took time for us to figure it out," Battier said.
James, who won his second All-Star MVP in three years on Sunday in New Orleans, finished with 26 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. It was his fifth triple-double this season and career No. 15 -- the third youngest to reach that mark behind Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.
Hounded by Battier, who got help from his teammates, James missed all seven shots in the first half.
"Anyone who says he can guard him (James) one on one is lying," Battier said. "What you have to have is support behind you, great communication. Every time LeBron turned the corner, one of our big men made him think twice about going down the lane. We got him to settle for some jumpers."
And James' shots didn't start falling with regularity until the fourth. His 3-pointer with 10:11 left brought the Cavaliers within 70-66.
However, Alston sank a long 3, reserve Carl Landry converted a three-point play and Scola did too -- all in a less than a minute -- to put the Rockets ahead by 13.
James tried to rally Cleveland down the stretch, but every time the league's best fourth-quarter scorer made a big basket, the Rockets, Alston in particular, answered.
"I missed too many easy shots that I usually make," James said.
"What we're developing on this team is a team like the Pistons," McGrady said. "Great defensive team, going out there and playing together and not relying on one or two people to score the rock.
"What we really care about is playing great defense and playing together. And, it showed."
|Rafer Alston (12) scores 22 points and celebrates a ninth straight victory with Carl Landry. (AP)|
|Houston (33-20) «||21||21||24||27||93|
|HOU:R. Alston 22 Pts
HOU:Y. Ming 14 Reb
HOU:T. McGrady 8 Ast
|CLE:L. James 26 Pts
CLE:L. James 13 Reb
CLE:L. James 11 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|T. McGrady, SG||41||6-21||5-8||2||8||1||17|
|R. Alston, PG||39||8-15||0-2||5||6||3||22|
|Y. Ming, C||37||3-17||10-10||14||3||4||16|
|S. Battier, SF||32||1-2||0-0||3||2||4||3|
|L. Scola, PF||30||6-9||3-3||8||1||3||15|
|C. Landry, PF||20||3-4||2-3||6||0||1||8|
|B. Wells, SG||19||3-5||1-4||6||0||2||7|
|L. Head, PG||11||1-3||0-0||2||2||0||2|
|A. Brooks, PG||7||1-2||0-0||1||1||1||3|
|S. Novak, SF||4||0-1||0-0||0||0||0||0|
|D. Mutombo, C||Did Not Play|
|S. Francis, PG||Did Not Play|
|M. James, PG||Did Not Play|
|K. Snyder, SG||Did Not Play|
|C. Hayes, PF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|L. James, SF||42||7-18||8-11||13||11||2||26|
|L. Hughes, SG||38||5-15||5-6||4||2||2||16|
|D. Gooden, PF||32||3-10||2-4||7||0||5||8|
|Z. Ilgauskas, C||31||8-15||0-0||7||0||2||16|
|I. Newble, SF||28||4-6||0-0||4||0||3||8|
|D. Gibson, PG||25||1-5||2-2||2||1||1||5|
|D. Marshall, PF||22||1-3||0-0||3||1||3||2|
|D. Brown, SG||11||2-6||0-0||3||1||1||4|
|D. Jones, PF||5||0-1||0-0||2||0||1||0|
|D. Jones, PG||4||0-1||0-0||0||0||0||0|
|E. Snow, PG||Did Not Play|
|A. Varejao, C||Did Not Play|
|S. Pavlovic, SG||Did Not Play|
|S. Brown, PG||Did Not Play|
|C. Simmons, SF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|