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Chron: Yao settling in like an old-timer on Rockets' 5-game trip out West

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by olliez, Nov 28, 2003.

  1. olliez

    olliez Contributing Member

    Dec 26, 2002
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    Call me a pessimist, but I think Rockets will fight a hard battle & lose it by 5 points


    Nov. 27, 2003, 11:48PM

    Yao settling in like an old-timer on Rockets' 5-game trip out West
    Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Yao Ming, that sage of so many NBA tours of duty, tried to remember his first Thanksgiving road trip. Everything was so new and different then and Yao, precocious rookie that he was, sampled America and his new life.

    "It seems so long ago," he said.

    But Yao remembered how he felt -- nervous and hopeful, excited and exhausted. He had been in the United States and in the NBA for about a month then, but a five-game West Coast trip wrapped around Thanksgiving was to be his crash course.

    "It feels like it's years ago, like when I wasn't here yet," Yao said of the Rockets' trip last year -- one that was similar to this Thanksgiving's trip. "I think I learned how tense NBA games are on that trip."

    A year later, this is his life.

    "It's very normal now," Yao said.

    Now he is, as teammate Maurice Taylor said, "just one of the guys in the locker room."

    Yao eats out and goes to movies, adventures he did not dare try a year ago. He checked out Taylor's 50 Cent CD last week. He knows what he likes and what he doesn't.

    "Let's not talk about turkey," Yao said of the annual Thanksgiving team dinner. "I can still watch football.

    "I do want to try new things. But some things I just don't understand. I don't know why people put pumpkins out for Halloween."

    But what seemed strange then is normal now. Things that were new have become routine.

    But the challenge is greater. It was enough then for Yao to demonstrate he belonged, to survive the rigors of the road and opposing centers and to perhaps offer enough glimpses of his potential. Facing such scrutiny, that seemed daunting enough. But now, he is measured against a much greater standard.

    "I want," Yao said, "to be great."

    Yao has become a focus of much of what the Rockets try to accomplish. And he has produced. He had a double double and scored at least 20 points in six of the past seven games. But there always has seemed to be much more he could have done. In Utah, he made three of 15 shots. In Portland, he struggled with second-half double teams. Even in the win over the host Clippers, Yao made all six of his attempts in the first half and took just one shot in the second half.

    He has played well but has seemed unsatisfied. Greatness turns out to be an even more unforgiving judge than all those who wished to jump to rapid and wrong conclusions a year before.

    "He's a good player," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "Hopefully, he's going to develop into a great player. He's a great person already so we don't have those worries. If he's to reach greatness, it will be at his own pace. We'll try to push him along towards it.

    "What does he want? Does he want to be a really good center? Does he want to be a great center? Does he want to be a dominating center? Whatever level he reaches will be on how he sees himself and how determined he is to get there."

    Having come this far, Yao seems determined to go the rest of the way. But Yao often has seemed tentative when choosing between the options his talent gives him. He has been overwhelmed with advice.

    "The longer he can sustain his concentration, keep getting a more and more solid conditioning base and figure out how he's going to attack vs. (use) strength, vs. shooting fadeaways -- those would be the areas I would want him to improve on most of all," Van Gundy said.

    Yao's numbers are solid. Going into tonight's game at Sacramento, Yao has averaged 17.1 points (almost double his average at this stage last season), while making 48 percent of his shots. Since opening night, he has been the focus of every opposing defense, armed with zones the rules now allow.

    "I think it is harder than last year," Yao said. "Last year people didn't know my game, so I could take advantage of that sometimes. Now, everybody has studied me and knows how I play. My response to that is I have to work harder and get better at what I'm going to do.

    "There was a period of time from the beginning of the season to now that I've had some obstacles and I'm trying to figure out how to just play my game.

    "I'm trying to learn how to be more aggressive. That isn't exactly in step with my original style of play. I have to figure out how to mix the two. You can't take every piece of advice people give you. There's so much coming at you, you don't know what to absorb. You can't absorb it all. I figured out, I just have to solve my problems myself. There's not going to be somebody at my side all the time. I don't think my game right now is completely mature. I need to improve."

    In that regard, little has changed. Yao is now more crucial to the Rockets' success. Instead of asking him only to do what he is ready to handle, the Rockets need the 23-year-old center to excel. But everything Yao does seems to suggest what more he could do later.

    "Him saying he wants to be the best center in the league or a great player is not far-fetched," Taylor said. "It's just his second year in the league. He's improved in every category. It's not like he's been in the league 10 years or he's 30 years old."

    While Yao makes his way through the Thanksgiving road trip, borrowing music -- "We lost," Yao said, "so I told him, `No more 50 Cent.' " -- and checking out movies, he chases something much more elusive than comfort. A year later, Yao pursues greatness.

    "The only thing that matters is what's in his heart," Van Gundy said. "The good thing is, we'll see in time."

    Right mix
    When the Rockets signed Alton Ford on Sunday, coach Jeff Van Gundy said the team might not be through retooling its roster.

    But he has said since that he had nothing specific in mind and was not trying to send any message by saying, "This might not be the last move."

    "Unless you win the championship, (you've) got to be on the search," Van Gundy said. "That's not to stir anything up. In your thinking, you have to be thinking about how you can improve your team, not just personnel-wise but system-wise until you reach your ultimate goal. We have a long way to go."

    While praising the way the Jazz have consistently found players that fit well in Jerry Sloan's system, Van Gundy said the Rockets have effectively found a good mix of role players for their needs.

    "The easiest groupings of players to get right, because it does not involve any contractual issues, are nine through 13," Van Gundy said. "I think it's like nine through 13, you can get right. Carroll (Dawson, Rockets general manager) and Dennis (Lindsey, vice president for player personnel) have done a really good job of making improvements. You always have to be constantly searching for what's right for your team."

    Another trap
    The Rockets move from Salt Lake City to Sacramento takes them from one of the toughest home courts in the NBA to perhaps the toughest. The rebuilding Jazz are 7-1 at home; the Kings are 8-0 in Arco Arena, one of just three teams unbeaten at home. (The Mavericks and Lakers are the others.)

    The Rockets' four road losses have come against teams -- Dallas, Toronto, Portland and Utah -- that have gone a combined 27-5 at home. But for years, the Delta Center and Arco Arena have been regarded as perhaps the toughest sites for teams on the road.

    "They're both hard places to play," Rockets forward Maurice Taylor said. "The fans are right on top of you. It's not as spread out at the Staples Center or the Toyota Center or the other new arenas. They're right on top of you and you can hear everything.

    "Sac has some crazy fans. (Utah) they just hate the other team. They're pretty good arenas to play in if you like playing on the road."


    Tonight: Rockets at Sacramento Kings

    ¡¤When/where: 9 p.m.; Arco Arena.

    ¡¤TV/radio: Ch. 51; KILT (610 AM) and in Spanish on KYST (920 AM).

    ¡¤Records: Rockets 9-5; Kings 10-4

    ¡¤Probable starters Rockets Kings

    ,2.5,,,1"No. Player P. Ht. From
    10 Mike Bibby G 6-1 Arizona
    32 Rodney Buford F 6-5 Creighton
    13 Doug Christie G 6-6 P'dine
    21 Vlade Divac C 7-1 Ser.-Mon.
    51 L. Funderburke* F 6-9 Ohio St.
    24 Bobby Jackson G 6-1 Minnesota
    34 T. Massenburg C 6-9 Maryland
    52 Brad Miller F 7-0 Purdue
    8 Anthony Peeler G 6-4 Missouri
    55 Jabari Smith F 6-9 LSU
    25 Darius Songalia F 6-9 W. Forest
    16 Peja Stojakovic F 6-10 Ser.-Mon.
    3 Gerald Wallace F 6-7 Alabama
    4 Chris Webber* F 6-10 Michigan
    *-on injured list
  2. SageHare6

    SageHare6 Member

    Dec 4, 2002
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    I thought I was the sage!


  3. olliez

    olliez Contributing Member

    Dec 26, 2002
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    Are you the mini-ming?

  4. Coolrush

    Coolrush Contributing Member

    Mar 21, 2003
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    I would have loved to see that....
  5. mirror_image

    mirror_image Contributing Member

    Dec 18, 2002
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    Rockets will win this game because:
    1) They have not lost consecutives games yet.
    2) Yao always plays dominantly against Miller and Divac.
    3) No Chris Webber.
    4) They won Kings twice in the preseason.
    5) King has the 3rd worst defense (give up 98.4) in the league.
  6. qrui

    qrui Member

    Dec 4, 2002
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    very objective. i like jvg's approach. you have to give time for your key player to develop. if you force too much the opposite may just happen.

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