INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Yao Ming may stand 7-foot-6, but he's
already experiencing the growing pains most NBA rookies do.
Yao, the No. 1 overall pick in the June 26 draft, failed to
score, had two rebounds, was called for three fouls and made little
impact for the Houston Rockets in a season-opening 91-82 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night.
"I learned that I still have a lot to learn, and I'm just a rookie,'' Yao said through an interpreter. "It's a very long road and it's difficult.''
Jermaine O'Neal scored 24 points and had 10 rebounds and Ron Artest added 20 points for Indiana, which overcame a career-high 39 points from Houston's Steve Francis.
I learned that I still have a lot to learn, and I'm just a rookie. It's a very long road and it's difficult. ”
— Yao Ming
Yao played only in the second and fourth quarters, turning the
ball over the first time he touched it when Jeff Foster stripped him of it, the first of his two turnovers. The Pacers led 71-62 at
the start of the fourth quarter when Yao was reinserted for
starting center Kelvin Cato, who grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds.
Yao missed his only shot, a turnaround 12-footer over Foster. He received mild applause from the crowd at Conseco Fieldhouse, which was not a sellout.
"I didn't feel good to sit on the bench and watch my teammates
losing,'' Yao said. "Of course, I want to contribute.''
Yao said he'd have to keep reminding himself that he would make mistakes like any rookie and still had to adjust to different rules and a faster pace.
Coach Rudy Tomjanovich said it would take time for Yao to get adjusted to new surroundings.
"The guy's been here 10 days. He's just trying to get acquainted with our offense, our defense,'' he said. "We're happy with him. It's going to take some time get acclimated.''
Francis, who was 13-of-28 from the field and made 12 of 14 free throws, scored 10 points in the fourth but couldn't get the deficit under double figures until the final minute. He said Houston needed to be patient with Yao's progress.
"It's only his first game,'' he said. "He didn't play particularly well. Sometimes that happens in your first game. It's a learning tool for him and also for us. We don't want to focus on what one guy did.''
Without a deep bench and missing its forwards, Houston relied heavily on its backcourt and a three-guard lineup.
Cuttino Mobley added 22 points, but no other Rocket reached double figures. Mobley and Francis took advantage of a Pacers' backcourt also affected by injuries.
Point guard Jamaal Tinsley missed the game with a sprained right
ankle. He sat on the bench with Reggie Miller and Austin Croshere, both on the injured list. Brad Miller was knocked out of the game in the third quarter when he was headbutted by Francis. He needed 14 stitches in his chin.
Artest started at shooting guard despite missing the entire exhibition season after having surgery on his dislocated left pinkie. The finger was wrapped but it hardly affected his shooting. He broke a tie game with a 3-pointer midway through the third, sparking an 11-2 run. The Pacers never trailed again.
"It was really unfortunate that I didn't get to play because of a wimpy little pinkie finger,'' Artest said. "I kept running and working to keep myself in shape so I'd be ready for tonight.''
Indiana's Erick Strickland added 19 points, though he wasn't quick enough to keep up with Francis.
Strickland, signed from Boston as a free agent, was expected to play primarily as a backup. Instead, he played 41 minutes and went 6-for-17 from the field.
"When I come off the bench, I kind of let it all develop on the floor and see how it's going,'' he said. "When I start, I have to get it going right away.''
Indiana's Al Harrington started at small forward and scored
nine points in his first regular-season game since Jan. 23, when he
tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He was
whistled for a technical in the third. ... Reggie Miller of the
Pacers opened the season on the injured list for the first time in
his NBA career. He sustained a deep bone bruise to his right ankle
during an exhibition game before the World Championships in August.
... Francis twice scored 35 points. Midway through the second
quarter he missed a dunk and landed hard on his left hip. There was
no contact on the play and Francis was slow to get up. He was
helped to the bench and returned minutes later.
Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press
Next 5 Games
11/01 @DEN 7:00pm 11/02 TOR 7:30pm 11/05 SEA 7:30pm 11/09 GS 7:30pm 11/12 POR 7:30pm
11/01 @NJ 7:30pm 11/02 MIN 7:00pm 11/05 @MIA 7:30pm 11/08 NY 7:00pm 11/09 TOR 7:00pm