Yao v. Shaq VI Brings Lifetime Series to 3-3

Philip Maymin
Basketball News Services 

In last night's episode of Yao vs. Shaq, the sixth in the lifetime series so far, the little guy Shaquille O'Neal, underdog and lilliputian, worked hard to contain the much taller Yao Ming, and succeeded. Yao just had a bad night while being defended almost solely by Shaq without a double-team in sight. He finished with just six points on 3-of-15 shooting, and the Lakers got their tenth consecutive victory by beating the Houston Rockets 93-85. If that official box score still doesn't work by the time you read this, here is an alternative one: Houston ChronicleBox Score.

Every player can have a bad game, and this was Yao's. As head coach Jeff Van Gundy toldThe Houston Chronicle, ""Every player has bad nights. It was one of those nights (for Yao). You go to what you do well. He took his shots, and he missed."

Meanwhile, lost in the loss was the shining brilliance of Cuttino Mobley. The second-round draft pick nearly outplayed Kobe Bryant. They both got 26 points but Bryant got freebies at the line while Mobley had to work for his, and work he did. In addition to his usual deft shooting touch, he was constantly playing the give-and-go and taking the ball to the hole. He made his first six shots to give Houston an early lead over the Lakers. Mobley had a great game, but his weaknesses were also the team's weaknesses: he didn't get to the line.

Mobley did not attempt a single free throw. Bryant attempted twelve. As a team, the Rockets went to the line 16 times. The Lakers got there 42 times.

One of three possibilities can explain the discrepancy: 1) unfair officiating, 2) non-aggressive Houston offense, 3) excellent Lakers defense. The officiating we can discard because although a few more calls maybe should have gone Houston's way, that doesn't explain 26 free throws. Was Houston's offense aggressive or not? One indication is the number of three pointers they took. The Lakers attempted just nine treys, while the Rockets hoisted 14. That's maybe half the difference. If they had driven to the hole on each of those five additional attempts instead of throwing up a missed three pointer, they would have gotten 10 more trips to the line.

So supposing a passive Houston offense explains 10 of the difference, and unfair officiating maybe five or six, that still leaves 10 more free throws that the Lakers got relative to Houston. So some credit has to be given to the Lakers' defense.

The Lakers' defense is usually maligned, as even the players complain that head coach Phil Jackson focuses more on the offensive execution and lets the defense take care of itself. But if they are able to keep the Rockets well away from any free shots at the charity stripe, they must be doing something right.

In the end, of course, it's just one more game, and it brings the Yao vs. Shaq matchup to 3-3 overall. In fact, this loss may have helped set up a first round matchup between the two teams. If the Lakers can oust the Kings for the Pacific division title, and Minnesota or San Antonio can claim the top spot in the Western conference overall, then we will see at least four and possibly as many as seven more Yao vs. Shaq games this postseason.

The Rockets host the fast-breaking Denver Nuggets tonight at 8:00pm. The game will be broadcast locally on channel 51 and nationally on NBA League Pass.

Despite the fact that the Rockets haven't yet clinched a playoff spot and have just three more wins than their nearest rivals, playoff tickets will go on sale tonight at midnight at the Toyota Center Box Office.

The remaining items are from the team webpage. Go to nba.com/rockets for more information.

Teachers End of School Special: The Houston Rockets would like to send a BIG thank you to our loyal teachers, staff, family and friends for coming out to our Teacher Appreciation Nights this season. To show our gratitude for your support, we would like to welcome you back to Toyota Center on Friday, April 9 for our "End of School Special" as the Rockets take on the Denver Nuggets at 7:30 p.m. Each person coming to the End of School Special will receive a special commemorative gift at the game. To order your tickets visitvatickets.comand enter event codeTEACH3.

Rockets Viewing Party: Houston Rockets fans are invited to attend back-to-back viewing parties on Thu., April 1 and Fri., April 2 to watch the Rockets take on the L.A. Lakers and Denver Nuggets, respectively. Thursday's viewing party will take place at Live Sports Café, 407 Main St. and Friday's will be at the new B.U.S., located across the street from Toyota Center at La Branch and Bell. At each party fans can watch the game, win prizes, play games, and enjoy a great Rockets game experience. More details....

Polaroid "Make it Suite": Enter to win a suite with your friends during the Rockets vs. Nuggets game on April 9. Just stop by any participating Houston-area CVS location to pick up your entry form for your shot at our Grand Prize (a suite for a Rockets game) or other great prizes including four floor seats to the Rockets game or a Polaroid digital camera.

Adrian Griffin
(knee) andKelvin Cato(shoulder) are on the injured list.


Jonathan Feigen ofThe Houston Chronicle writes: Before everything changed, nothing ever did. Karl Malone was a given.He ran the same simple plays with the same no-frills team with the same certain efficiency. Then he became part of the Los Angeles Lakers' flying circus of celebrity and silliness and sensational dramas. But the madness that is life with the Lakers is not the reason Malone can see himself chucking it all. No team, no scene, could be further from life with the Utah Jazz. But Malone is fine with all that. "Take into consideration everything that happened this year, with the team, everything, if I knew what I know now, I would do it all again," Malone said. "I would come back, right back into the situation I'm in now." The injuries -- even the torn right knee ligament, the likes of which he had always thought would end his career -- also do not trouble him. He missed more games to injury this season than in the rest of his 19-year career combined. He even skipped a doctor's appointment to have his sore right hand examined, having decided he would play through anything, anyway.

Jonathan Feigen ofThe Houston Chronicle writes: Perhaps all the Rockets really needed on Thursday was a 7-6 center too tall and agile, with too soft a shooting touch, for Shaquille O'Neal to handle. They gave Yao Ming ample time to find his range and turn another Rockets-Lakers game into a showdown with O'Neal. Yao never did, however, and the Rockets never could make up for the void in the middle... The Rockets came up well short, however, when their tallest player could not begin to match his previous play against O'Neal this season.Averaging 26.7 points on 55.4 percent shooting in his first three games against the Lakers, Yao made just three of 15 shots for six points. "He put a lot of pressure on me at the beginning of the game and didn't give me a lot of space to adjust my shot," Yao said of O'Neal. "I think he had a big effect. But in the latter part of the game, he came off, and I couldn't put the ball in the hole. It's just one game. You're always going to have bad games." Said Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy: "Every player has bad nights. It was one of those nights (for Yao). You go to what you do well. He took his shots, and he missed."