Yao and McGrady Stepping Up

Utah's Derek Fisher understands the danger in trying to contain Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady in the hope other Rockets won't score.

The Jazz guard was one of the ``others'' who stepped up when teams employed that tactic against Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant during the Los Angeles Lakers' run of three straight titles from 2000-2002.

Oddsmakers have made Houston -5.5 point spread favorites (NBA Odds) for todays game, the over/under has been set at 185.5 total points (View NBA Sports Books). Our public betting information shows that 69% of bets for this game have been placed on Houston -5.5 (View NBA Bet Percentages).

Yao and McGrady carried the load in Houston's 84-75 win over the Jazz in Game 1, but as the teams prepare for Game 2 on Monday, Fisher knows overlooking the Rockets' other weapons could be dangerous.

``I think it's just difficult when you decide that you're going just wipe two guys out and allow everyone else to play,'' Fisher said. ``They're in the NBA also. They may not be as talented as Tracy or Yao, but they're good basketball players.''

The Rockets haven't won a playoff series win since 1997, and the Jazz, in the postseason for the first time since 2003, haven't won one since 2000.

Fisher remembers his time in Los Angeles when he averaged 8.4 points and almost three assists in the finals. In the 2002 finals sweep of New Jersey, he connected on 8 of 12 3-point attempts.

``I made a living myself playing around two guys that people thought you could just guard those two and leave everybody else open,'' he said. ``Guys are good enough in this league to make you pay.''

The Rockets' only double-digit scoring Saturday came from Yao (28) and McGrady (23). But Rafer Alston (13.3), Shane Battier (10.1) and Luther Head (10.9) all averaged more than 10 points a game during the regular season.

``These guys are not bad players around these two,'' Fisher said. ``That's why they've had the success they've had this season. So it's important that we focus a lot of our attention toward the two best players, but we can't just leave guys open for wide-open shots and expect to win.''

Alston, who was 3-of-10 from 3-point range in Game 1, knows he has to score when he's open because of a double team on Yao or McGrady.

``They are going to make a conscious effort to stay on Yao and Tracy and make guys like myself and Luther and Shane beat them,'' Alston said. ``They were leaving me a lot. I was left alone.''

He's hoping to see more of that in Game 2.

``I'm capable of knocking down five or six in a game,'' he said. ``They're going to take their chance with me shooting the ball from beyond the arc.''

McGrady, who is winless in five career playoff series, said things will be difficult if Houston's role players don't step up when he's being trapped.

``If we're not knocking down shots then they're going to continue to do that and it takes the ball out of my hands,'' he said. ``It's very important that when they trap like that we're knocking down shots so they can go to something else.''

The seven-time All-Star struggled en route to a one-point first-half performance Saturday before scoring 16 points in the third quarter to lead Houston to its come-from-behind win. After the game, he blamed his poor start on nerves and admitted his palms were sweaty as he drove to the Toyota Center for the game.

McGrady said the anxiety is behind him and that there will be no similar problems in Game 2.

``It's real big for us to get out to a great start tomorrow,'' he said. ``We got the first-game jitters out of the way, so now it's time to play our basketball for four quarters.''

Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy thinks Houston's slow start Saturday may have been a product of being burdened by outside expectations.

``Sometimes you want something so bad it has a negative impact,'' he said. ``Instead of seeing it as a great opportunity, I thought we were very discombobulated. We're going to have to have the right level of intensity and be emotionally solid so that you can play poised, efficient basketball.''

Utah coach Jerry Sloan was concerned about the mind-set of his team as well, but for a different reason. He said some of his younger players got too worked up for Game 1 and that there was no way for him to talk them down.

``Some of those guys were ready to play at noon,'' he said. ``I told them and tried to explain to them, but they've got to learn on their own. The game doesn't start until 8:30 and that's the only time you want to get yourself pumped up to play.''

By: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us

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