Washington (16-34) at Houston (30-22)

Cloudy Currently: Houston, TX
Temp: 77° F
  • Game info: 8:30 pm EST Tue Feb 17, 2004
  • TV: KNWS
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The last week has been pretty memorable for Yao Ming.

His continuing emergence is a big reason why the Houston Rockets feel optimistic heading into the second half of the season, starting with a matchup against the Washington Wizards.

Yao outplayed Shaquille O’Neal on Wednesday night, finishing with 29 points and 11 rebounds as Houston beat the Los Angeles Lakers 102-87.

The following day, Yao was named Kobe Bryant’s replacement as the global spokesman for McDonald’s. On Saturday, the NBA announced the Rockets would play two exhibition games in China next season against the Sacramento Kings, allowing Yao to return to play in his homeland.

Yao then started Sunday’s All-Star game, scoring 16 points in 19 minutes to help the Western Conference win 136-132.

The victory over the Lakers, though, was likely the biggest highlight.

“We played as a team and everybody played together with great chemistry and they couldn’t get hold of what we were trying to do,” said Yao, who has scored 54 points in the last two games.

That victory kept the Rockets tied with Memphis and Denver for sixth place in the West. They have won four of five following a season-high, four-game losing streak.

“The season so far has been up and down. We still have the opportunity and the time to get better,” said Steve Francis, who also started for the West on Sunday and scored 13 points.

Francis’ starting backcourt mate, Cuttino Mobley, who had 21 points and a season-high 10 assists against the Lakers, also feels Houston should improve.

“The first half was OK. I’ll give it a C, maybe a C-plus,” Mobley said. “We were capable of more than that. Losing four straight was bad.”

Just when things started looking up for the Wizards heading into the All-Star break, they took a turn for the worse.

Leading scorer Larry Hughes broke his left wrist in Saturday’s win at Cleveland, then the Wizards were blown out 113-88 at Philadelphia on Wednesday in their final game before the break.

Washington had won two straight and finally had its best players healthy. Jerry Stackhouse sat out the first 45 games of the season following knee surgery and Gilbert Arenas missed 26 games with a strained abdomen before returning two weeks ago.

Despite Hughes being out four to six weeks, Arenas thinks the future is bright despite Washington having the third-worst record in the East.

“Everybody is judging us now, and saying that we are weak,” Arenas said, “but after the break they will see what the Wizards are all about.”

STANDINGS (through Feb. 15): Wizards - 6th place, 14 1/2 GB, Atlantic Division. Rockets - 4th place (tied), 7 GB, Midwest Division.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Wizards - F Stackhouse, F Kwame Brown, C Brendan Haywood, G Brevin Knight, G Arenas. Rockets - F Jim Jackson, F Kelvin Cato, C Yao, G Francis, G Mobley.

TEAM LEADERS: Wizards - Hughes, 18.7 ppg; Brown, 7.1 rpg; Arenas, 4.8 apg. Rockets - Francis, 16.9 ppg and 5.9 apg; Yao, 9 rpg.

SEASON SERIES: Rockets, 1-0.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 13; Rockets, 93-80. At Washington, Yao scored 14 of his 21 points in the third quarter, but wasn’t needed in the decisive run in the fourth as the Rockets shredded the Wizards’ interior defense.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Wizards - 5-20 on the road; Rockets - 17-8 at home.

INJURIES: Wizards - G Hughes (wrist); G Mitchell Butler (knee); G Chris Whitney (ankle). Rockets - G Mike Wilks (foot).

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