HOUSTON (AP) -- Yao Ming played as if he was the best center in the West.
Yao outplayed Shaquille O'Neal -- his Western Conference backup
in Sunday's NBA All-Star Game -- with 29 points and 11 rebounds to
lead the Houston Rockets to a 102-87 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night.
"When a guy that size gets going, he's hard to stop," Horace Grant said. "He got going tonight and he was a dominant center.
He's a great passer and defender. There was no slack in his game.
He was shooting, blocking shots and passing. It was his night
With Yao leading the way, the Rockets pulled away in the fourth
quarter. Yao hit five free throws and three field goals, including
a hook over O'Neal in the final 6:12. He also scored 11 of Houston's final 15 points.
"I was very surprised how I was able to do," Yao said. "We
kept moving the ball and moving our people on defense and Shaq
couldn't catch up to it. We have to face a lot of Western
Conference teams and this will be a big boost to our confidence."
Yao got more votes than O'Neal and will start for the Western
Conference in the All-Star Game. O'Neal has outscored Yao 116-63 in
O'Neal, who finished with 24 points and nine rebounds, fouled
out with 3:20 to play. Bryant came off the injured list and scored
14 points for the Lakers.
"I don't know that losing tonight makes it a bad road trip,"
Derek Fisher said. "We did a lot of good things, competed and
played hard. We just weren't efficient enough on offense."
Lakers coach Phil Jackson praised Yao but also believed his team was
fatigued in the final game of a seven-game road trip, which they
finished with a 4-3 record.
"We took the lead, but couldn't keep past two points," Jackson
said. "We're not happy with this road trip."
O'Neal didn't concede too much to Yao.
"He made the shots, but he got the whistle, too," O'Neal said.
"He's a big guy and has a soft touch. I don't think he'll ever be
able to play me one-on-one, ever, ever, ever. We let this one slip
away. They played with a lot of effort. We just made mistakes."
The Rockets went ahead 73-63 late in the third quarter, and Yao
got them off to a quick start in the fourth with two free throws
and a jumper. Steve Francis and Jim Jackson hit 3-pointers to boost
the lead to 83-69 with 9:01 to play
Bryant missed seven games with a cut on his right index finger.
"I was about 90 percent, but I felt great," he said. "I was
just waiting for things to open up for me. If they did test me, I
didn't notice it. I felt fine and my stroke was there. It didn't
affect me at all."
Bryant told reporters that he would make his start in Sunday's All-Star Game.
There were 14 lead changes in the first quarter before the
Rockets took the lead late in the period and held on for a 46-45
lead at halftime. Houston led most of the first half. The Lakers
took a brief 43-42 lead late in the second quarter before Yao's
dunk over O'Neal put Houston ahead.
Yao gave the crowd a thrill in the first quarter when he came
racing through the lane and batted away a shot by Stanislav Medvedenko.
Houston's Maurice Taylor has the second-highest scoring
average for players without a start this season at 11.8 points in
44 appearances. ... Houston has a winning record in every month
this season. The last time that happened was the 1993-94 season,
when the Rockets won the first of back-to-back NBA championships.
... To make room for Bryant, the Lakers placed forward-center Jamal Sampson on the injured list with a sprained right ankle.