Home>News Center>Sports

Rockets like chances against Lakers
Updated: 2004-04-16 10:59

Jeff Van Gundy noticed the unusual intensity of the Los Angeles Lakers in their regular season finale.

The Lakers pulled out a double-overtime victory over Portland on Wednesday night, moving ahead of Sacramento to win the Pacific Division and secure the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.

Houston Rockets center Yao Ming (right) reaches for a rebound against Denver Nuggets forward Nene (31) during the third quarter at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Friday, April 2, 2004. [Reuters]

Afterward, they celebrated as if they'd won a championship.

What the Lakers really earned, however, was a first-round matchup against the Houston Rockets instead of the playoff-tested Dallas Mavericks. The best-of-seven series starts Saturday in Los Angeles.

Houston, the seventh seed in the West, has won four of eight games against Los Angeles over the last two seasons ! pretty good for a team that hasn't been to the playoffs since Hakeem Olajuwon was patrolling the lane.

The Rockets know that history won't mean much in this postseason.

No team raises its intensity in April more than the Lakers, winners of three of the last four NBA championships. With veterans like Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton and Karl Malone ! all of whom have played in the NBA Finals ! the Lakers know exactly how to pace themselves through the regular season to gear up for the playoffs.

"We know they're the best team in the league," Van Gundy said. "We know what's ahead of us."

Well, a few of the Rockets do.

Houston has only one starter with any significant postseason experience ! forward Jim Jackson, who played with Sacramento last year. The closest the Rockets' two All-Stars, Steve Francis and Yao Ming, have gotten to the playoffs is watching them on TV.

"This is a big-time stage for us to grow and get better," Francis said. "I hope this proves to be a good experience for us."

The Rockets enter their matchup against the Lakers in a bit of a slump, losing seven of their last 10 games. Forward Kelvin Cato ! a key defensive option against Shaq ! has been in such a slump that he hasn't even gotten off the bench in the past two games and might not make the playoff roster.

"We'll find out in the next few days," Van Gundy said.

Yao, who scored 29 and 33 points in games against the Lakers this season, has been the rare big man to have any recent success against Shaq. His 7-foot-5 height, touch around the basket and surprising willingness to mix it up with O'Neal could go a long way in keeping the series close.

"We'll just have to do better than we've done," Yao said.


Some people have even suggested that Houston actually wanted to face Los Angeles instead of another of the Western Conference's elite teams ! a sentiment that's surely caught the attention of the Lakers.

Houston guard Cuttino Mobley scoffed at that notion.

"Sometimes if you wish for it, believe me, it will come to you," Mobley said.

  Today's Top News     Top Sports News

Beating the empty-nester blues



9 killed, 150,000 evacuated after gas leak



Corrupt Chinese official repatriated from US



Scientist predicts earthquake by Sept 5



Rules to intercept unwanted messages



US soldier shown captive on videotape


  Soccer: China out of race for Olympic berth
  Alleged lover: Beckham affair mind-blowing
  Beckham storm 'no problem' for Sven
  Serena quits Family Circle, Fed Cup
  Pippen says he'll probably retire
  Rockets like chances against Lakers
  Go to Another Section  
  Story Tools