The Yao Ming show continues.
And this time another Rocket rookie stepped up as well.
Big Yao, in his first career NBA start, and Juaquin Hawkins, in a rare start, each had big games as the Rockets withstood a late Wizards rally to beat Washington 93-86 Friday, improving their record to 7-4.
Yet again, Yao was a beast.
He scored 10 of his 18 points in the first quarter, finishing 7-11 from the floor, and grabbed 8 boards to go with 4 rejections. His touch around the rim continues to be cotton soft and he continues to attack the basket with no regard for human life. His pump fake in the middle of the lane that shook two defenders, then subsequent slam was a thing of beauty.
Consider this: In the last 4 games, Yao is averaging 19.3 points on 81.1% shooting (30-37), 9 boards, 2 blocks, 85% shooting from the line and doing it all in 26.5 minutes a contest.
I just can't say enough good things about the progress he has shown and the intelligence he displays out on the floor. He is just what the doctor ordered for this team (or for any team).
But lets not forget Hawkins, who was starting in place of the injured Mobley who went on the IR before the game with a sore ankle. Juaquin brought a completely different game to the Rockets than Mobley does -- one that primarily included defense and passing. The 29-year old rookie was 6-8 from the floor, nailing both his triple attempts, to score 14 points, grab 8 boards and dish out 5 dimes.
It's very early, but the Rockets are going to get a unique perspective on this team over the next two weeks while Mobley is out. Cuttino is a very talented scorer, but will the squad work better with a dirty work kind of guy at the two, one that doesn't require the ball in his hands to be effective? Time will tell.
The zone defense the Rockets have implemented is an interesting one. It seems to be forcing opponents to shoot the outside jumper, and so far they have connected on the three ball with regularity. But with Yao and Eddie Griffin (6 points, 9 boards, 3 swats), the Rockets have the guys to throw a block party inside and their defense has been stronger than it was last year.
Steve Francis didn't have the jay working (6-16 from the floor), but he finished with 16 points, 7 assists and 6 boards.
In what could prove to be a sign of the Apocalypse, Glen Rice has put together two solid games in a row. For the second straight game, Rice scored 16 points, this time hitting 3-8 from long range. Glen is seeing open jumpers thanks to Yao and his stroke is making defenses pay.
I just want to add one thing about this game -- it was Terence Morris' return from the IR, and while he didn't play more than 8 minutes, he threw down a dunk that might rank as top ten all-time for the franchise. Steve Francis was flying down on the break, dished it to the side to Morris, who took off in mid-paint, soared past a defender and threw down the nastiest Vince Carter-esque one-hand jam.
I had no idea the man was capable.