Wednesday, January 22, 2003

NBA Games: Yao needs a breather

By Jaime Aron
The Associated Press

DALLAS - Yao Ming won't say it. His coach will: The Houston Rockets' 7-foot-6 rookie sensation is tired. After seeing his center's lethargic play in a 107-86 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night, Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said he's giving Yao two days off "to get his batteries recharged."

Yao had six points and five rebounds in 22 minutes against a team he torched for 30 points and 16 rebounds two months ago. He committed five turnovers and had three shots blocked by Raef LaFrentz, who is 7 inches shorter. LaFrentz also once forced a jump ball, which LaFrentz won.

"I think he needs to take two days off and rest," Tomjanovich said. "For him to have five turnovers, that's a lot for him because he's not a mistake player. ... This wasn't a good picture of him. I feel for him. He needs some time off."

Yao downplayed the idea, even getting frustrated when it kept coming up in postgame interviews.

"I felt I had good opportunities, I just didn't put the ball in the basket," he said. "That's the third time somebody's asked me - I'm not tired."

This was Yao's 40th NBA game. He came to the league straight from playing for China in the World Championships, which came after playing professionally in his native country. His longest season in the China Basketball Association was 34 games.

"If I hit the wall, I don't know it," he said. "That's for you guys to decide."

In the only other NBA games, Sacramento beat New Jersey 109-102 and Orlando topped Cleveland 103-94.

The Mavericks came in on a three-game losing streak, having dropped road games against Sacramento, Phoenix and Seattle. They hadn't lost consecutive games all season until then.

Dallas hit its first four shots - all long jumpers - and led by 12 early. Although Houston briefly went ahead, the Mavs regained control by outscoring the Rockets 29-13 in the second quarter. The game was never close again.

"It was good to see us win again. It seems like a month, not a week, since we won," Dallas coach Don Nelson said.

Dirk Nowitzki rebounded from a scoreless first quarter to score eight of the Mavs' first nine in the second, starting with a layup off a great spin move. He had 12 of his 26 points in the period.

Steve Nash had 20 points and eight assists and Michael Finley scored 19 points, including the 5,000th of his career on a hard-fought tip-in just before the buzzer at the end of the third quarter.

LaFrentz had eight points and five blocks. In addition to his stuffs on Yao, he also rejected a dunk attempt by James Posey.

Posey typified Houston's offensive woes by following that embarrassment with an airball on a 3-pointer on the next possession.

In losing their second straight since an exciting overtime victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Rockets committed a season-high 26 turnovers and had a season-low eight assists. That horrible combination led to their most lopsided loss of an otherwise strong season. At 23-17, Houston is 10 games better than its 13-27 record at the same point last season.

"We had horrible decision-making," Tomjanovich said.

The teams meet again next Wednesday in Houston. Yao is already looking forward to playing LaFrentz again.

"We'll see what happens next time," he said, smiling.

Kings 109, Nets 102

At Sacramento, Calif., Chris Webber had 36 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists and all five Kings starters scored in double figures in a win against New Jersey.

Peja Stojakovic scored 12 of his 26 points in the third quarter for the Kings, who improved to 18-2 at home. Mike Bibby added 13 points and 10 assists and Vlade Divac and Doug Christie each scored 11.

Jason Kidd led New Jersey with 27 points in another frustrating night for the Atlantic Division leaders against Sacramento. The Nets lost by 36 points at home to the Kings on Jan. 9.

Magic 103, Cavaliers 94

At Cleveland, Tracy McGrady scored 35 points to spoil Keith Smart's coaching debut with Cleveland.

McGrady came in as the league's leading scorer at 30 points per game, and he had matched that with 6:55 left in the third quarter with a pair of free throws.

At that point, McGrady had outscored the Cavs' starters 30-29. He had 33 points after three quarters.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas led Cleveland with a career-high 35 points, but the Cavs, who have lost 11 of 13, didn't play much better with Smart calling the shots as they had with John Lucas for the first 42 games this season.

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