Believe it: The next great NBA center is in Houston.
Problem is the next great NBA team is in Dallas, and despite a monster performance from Yao Ming, the Mavericks beat the Rockets 103-90 Thursday night for their 12th consecutive victory.
As a Rocket fan you almost didn't feel disappointment from the loss because in 48 minutes you saw the future of this team, and his name is Yao Ming.
The big fella didn't come in to the game until the Rockets were getting their asses kicked 21-11 with 3:28 left in the first quarter.
And then that was all she wrote.
Playing in front of a national TV audience on TNT, Yao exploded. He started off with a three-point play inside, and finished with 9 points before the quarter was out. He was doing all this without Shawn Bradley in the game, who was in early foul trouble. When Stick-Boy came back, about 4 minutes in to the second quarter, he rejected a 17-foot shot attempt by Yao, then drew a foul on him, and the Mavs fans were going ballistic cheering.
And then you never heard from them again on that matchup.
Yao used and abused Bradley, the player so many critics claimed Yao was a clone of. He turned right on him for a baseline turnaround, he bowled in to the lane past him for an overpowering layin and the play of the night: Yao, with Bradley draped all over him, just goes up right in the Dallas big man' face and throws down a one-handed monster jam.
By half, Yao had already hit career highs. He had hit 7-9 shots and 7-7 free throws for 21 points to go with 7 boards and one nasty rejection of Steve Nash - but the most important element, his numbers had helped the Rockets tie the game with Dallas seconds before half, and when the final tally was in - Yao: 30 points, 16 boards, 2 blocks. Bradley: 0 points, 2 boards, 1 block.
We'd like to hear what Bradley would have to say about that, only he bailed the scene without talking to reporters.
"Yao is the real thing," forward Dirk Nowitzki, a great player in his own right, told the Dallas Morning News. "He can be a scary player."
Yao hit 10-12 shots, meaning his numbers over the last 6 games have him draining 31-35 from the floor and through his first 10 games in the NBA, Yao is hitting 72% of his shots. 72% and the dude is an NBA rookie.
Oh yes, the future is Yao.
What made it even more funny was that Yao did this in Mark Cuban's place. The Mavericks owner was ultra-critical of Yao in public before the draft, calling him overrated and saying that not only was he not the top pick, but he may not be a top 10 pick.
Of course what Cuban won't tell you is that he tried on several occasions to trade for that pick, but the charade continues. On TNT in the fourth quarter, Cuban was asked what he thought of Yao.
"Well Yao is great," said Cuban, shrugging his shoulders. "But he's out here getting calls like a 30-year veteran. But that's (referee) Joey [Crawford] for you and we'll just have to deal with it."
Anyhow, Yao was in fact great, but there was a game to be played, and the Rockets lost. The Mavs are also the real deal. Houston played tough, but hit a wall late in the third when Dallas busted open a close game and the Rockets relied on three-point shots. The Rockets also had no answer whatsoever for Michael Finley, who scored 28 points and hit 6-8 bombs, all of which were daggers.
You have to tip your hat to the Mavs -- they've simply become a great team.
Cuttino Mobley had probably his worst game as a Rocket, going 0-8 from the floor for 3 points. He also had to guard Finley and made a very critical turnover with one second left in the half, passing the ball to Eduardo Najera, who threw up a desperation three from halfcourt and missed, but got a garbage foul call giving him three freebies. Mobley is the player who most will have to adjust his game around Yao's.
Maurice Taylor also had a rough shooting night, missing 8 of his 10 attempts, for just 4 points.
Steve Francis, however, looked pretty good, going 9-20 from the floor for 22 points, 5 dimes and a pair of steals. I was up off the couch almost the entire game because of Yao, but the play where Francis drove to the lane, drew defenders and pitched it to Yao in the lane for a flying thunder slam had me drooling.
Glen Rice also kept the defense honest, putting up 10 shots -- all of them threes -- making 5 of them for 16 points, 4 short of his Rocket career high of 20 set against the Knicks last season.
The Rockets can't spend too much time thinking about the loss. They come home to face Michael Jordan and the Wizards tonight.