Yao vs. Shaq in Playoffs! Oh, and Rockets Lost to Mavs

Philip Maymin
Basketball News Services 

Yesterday I calculated that the odds of a Yao vs. Shaq playoff series was optimistically a coin toss, or 50%. History proved that prediction right. The Kings lost to the Warriors and the Lakers won on a Kobe shot at the buzzer in double-overtime. That sounds like the definition of 50% to me. Thanks to Kobe's heroics and the Kings' continuing slumps, Yao Ming will face Shaquille O'Neal in a matchup that couldn't be more exciting, and is probably the best matchup the Rockets could have hoped for. In other news, the Rockets lost 92-89to Dallas in their last game of the regular season.

The only three Rockets not to play last night were guards Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley, who are trying to heal from some late-season injuries, and Kelvin Cato, inexplicably. Francis and Mobley will be ready to play on Saturday. Cato? Who knows.

Is the Hollywood effect of the Lakers already rubbing off on Houston? Cato is mysteriously sitting, though he isn't injured, and there's no reason not to play him in a meaningless game. Yao and head coach Jeff Van Gundy have gotten into a kind of "tired of being tired" routine through the media. Yao has repeatedly stated that he often gets tired, in response to which Van Gundy toldThe Houston Chronicle, "That excuse that he's tired -- well, guess what? That's tired."

Van Gundy is tired of the tired talk. "No one cares if he's tired, least of all me, least of all his next opponent. Here's a good quote: `I'm tired of reading that he's tired.' "I never hear Shaq (O'Neal) say that he's tired. Never. I never hear that. I never hear the great players say that they're tired. It's interesting."

Yao, too, is tired just talking about it. As he toldThe Houston Chronicle, "I don't want to think about it. The more you think about it, the more tired you are."

It is a trademark (and tired?) Laker tactic to air dirty laundry in the media, and essentially converse through the press. Have the Rockets been taking lessons from their new opponents?

In any case, it's going to be a tremendous series, possibly one of the best of the whole playoffs, when Yao and Shaq matchup starting this weekend. Be sure to read Bill "The Rocket Guy" Ingram's upcomingTexas Trianglereport for more insight into this series.

The Rockets play their first playoff game in recent memory when they travel to LA to take on the Pacific Division winning Lakers on Saturday, April 17. That game, the first playoff matchup between Yao and Shaq ever, will start at 10:30pm and will be broadcast on ESPN.

Yao Ming and Steve Francis had some thoughts on the playoffs prior to learning how exactly they will be facing. You can read those quotes here.

Last night's game was a good opportunity for bench players to get some PT. Mike Wilks played 25 minutes and got 13 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds. Extrapolating to a double-overtime game, that's a triple-double. Clarence Weatherspoon played 25 minutes and got eight rebounds. Erik Piatkowski attempted five shots, all treys, in his 17 minutes of action, hitting two for six points to go with three assists and two rebounds.

The Rockets were even able to score 11 fast break points and keep the Mavs to just 14.

The Rockets end the season ranked seventh in the Western Conference and fifth in the Midwest division with a 45-37 record.

Adrian Griffin(knee) is on the injured list.Steve Francis(elbow) andCuttino Mobley(shoulder) did not play the last two games.


Megan Manfull ofThe Houston Chronicle writes: Finally, the Rockets could start talking about it.Finally, they could start planning. After waiting five years to return to the playoffs, the Rockets have to wait only two more days. The Rockets will play the Lakers in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs starting Saturday at Staples Center in Los Angeles... This will be the Rockets' first postseason appearance since they lost to the Lakers in the first round of the 1999 playoffs. That year, the Lakers won the best-of-five series 3-1, dropping only the third game of the series, which was played at Compaq Center.

Jonathan Feigen and Megan Manfull ofThe Houston Chronicle write: To Mavericks coach Don Nelson, the regular-season finale was different from a practice only because someone kept score. To Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, it was a key game the Rockets needed to win.With no chance to change either team's playoff situation, the game might have seemed meaningless. But Van Gundy said "it means a lot. It's an NBA game. Fans paid money to see us. We have to play as hard as we can and play to win." Nelson took a different approach. "It's a game that doesn't mean very much," he said. "Try not to get anybody hurt, treat it as kind of a practice game. The outcome doesn't matter."