Houston (42-31) at Los Angeles (51-23)

Fair Currently: Los Angeles, CA
Temp: 63° F
  • Game info: 10:30 pm EST Thu Apr 1, 2004
  • TV: TNT, TNT
Preview | Box Score | Recap

No team brings out the best in Yao Ming like the Los Angeles Lakers.

He’ll try for another strong game against them as the Houston Rockets as try to win the season series with the surging Lakers.

Yao has a higher scoring average against the Lakers than against any other team. The Chinese center averaged 26.7 points and 9.0 rebounds to lead the Rockets to wins in two of the first three games against Los Angeles this season.

The 7-foot-5 Yao scored 33 points against Shaquille O’Neal in a 96-93 loss to the Lakers in their last meeting on March 3. O’Neal had 28 points and seven rebounds.

Yao is having a strong second half, averaging 21.6 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks over the last 14 contests.

Yao missed an 18-footer with 10 seconds remaining in the Rockets’ 94-88 loss to the Timberwolves on Monday. It was Houston’s fifth loss in eight games.

O’Neal thinks the Lakers are playing better than they have all season.

“Everybody is playing very spirited basketball. It’s fun playing like that and it’s fun to watch, I’m sure,” O’Neal said after the Lakers overcame a slow start to beat the short-handed New Orleans Hornets 107-88 on Tuesday.

Kobe Bryant scored 23 points and Gary Payton added 20 as the Lakers extended their winning streak to nine games. Los Angeles won a season-high 10 straight from Nov. 19-Dec. 9.

Forward Karl Malone said defense is the biggest difference now compared to early in the season.

“We’ve got four guys who start that made first-team all-defense,” said Malone. “Gary (Payton) was defensive player of the year, so we’ve got guys who definitely know how to do it.”

Malone is averaging 12.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 10 games since coming back from a knee injury.

STANDINGS (through March 30): Rockets - 5th place, 8 GB, Midwest Division. Lakers - 2nd place, 1 1/2 GB, Pacific Division.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Rockets - F Jim Jackson, F Maurice Taylor, C Yao, G Steve Francis, G Cuttino Mobley. Lakers - F Rick Fox, F Malone, C O’Neal, G Bryant, G Payton.

TEAM LEADERS: Rockets - Yao, 17.7 ppg and 9.1 rpg; Francis, 6.1 apg. Lakers - Bryant, 23.6 ppg; O’Neal, 11.6 rpg; Payton, 5.6 apg.

SEASON SERIES: Rockets, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: March 3; Lakers, 96-93. At Houston, Bryant hit the jumper with 32 seconds to play as the Lakers rallied from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Rockets.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rockets - 16-19 on the road; Lakers - 31-5 at home.

INJURIES: Rockets - F Kelvin Cato (shoulder); G Mike Wilks (foot). Lakers - F Horace Grant (hip); F-C Jamal Sampson (ankle).

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