Houston (0-0) at Utah (0-0)

Mostly Cloudy Currently: Salt Lake City, UT
Temp: 77° F
  • Game info: 9:00 pm EST Wed Nov 1, 2006
  • TV: FSSW
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The Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz were both on the outside looking in when the playoffs began last season. For either team to get in this season, health will be a key factor.

The Rockets, who hope to get a full season out of stars Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, meet the Jazz on Wednesday at the Delta Center in the season opener for both teams.

Houston went 34-48 last season, mostly because Yao sat out 25 games after toe surgery and a broken foot and McGrady missed 34 with back problems.

The Rockets won just seven games without McGrady last season and whether he can overcome the back problems that have plagued him throughout his career remains a question.

Yao seems to have recovered fully from the broken foot he suffered at Utah on April 10 since he shined in the world championships over the summer, leading China to the round of 16. He suffered a mild right ankle sprain in the preseason, but it’s not considered serious.

“I think if we continue to be healthy through the complete season, then we’re right up there with the best of them, because I like our additions,” said McGrady before the start of training camp. “If the two of us can be healthy, anything is possible.”

In order to complement McGrady and Yao, Houston made several changes. The most notable addition is shooting guard Bonzi Wells, a talented wing player who is with his fourth team in as many years.

“I’ve been in this league long enough; I’ve made enough money,” Wells said. “I just want to win a championship. With Yao and Tracy being as young as they are and the pieces around them, I think we’re really going to have a chance.”

Houston also added Vassilis Spanoulis, who helped lead silver medalist Greece to a victory over the United States in the world championships.

“Everything is different in my life, my lifestyle, the way they think about basketball,” Spanoulis said. “I’m ready to make this adjustment. That’s why I came here.”

The Rockets also acquired defensive-minded forward Shane Battier from Memphis and unheralded guard Kirk Snyder, who started 45 games for the Hornets last season.

Utah made the playoffs 20 straight seasons before missing the last three years. Last season, the Jazz went 41-41 and finished three games behind Northwest Division champion Denver.

A full season from power forward Carlos Boozer would be a welcome change for Utah. Boozer has played in just 84 games in two seasons with the Jazz after a pulled hamstring kept him out last season until Feb. 10.

“I’m glad to be back. It’s going to be a good year,” Boozer said. “We finished the season so strong, and we have a lot of promising things happening right now.”

Boozer, who has been the subject of trade rumors, is a critical component of a frontcourt that includes improving Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko.

Okur nearly became an All-Star last season after averaging career highs of 18.0 points and 9.1 rebounds while Kirilenko remains one of the game’s most versatile players after averaging 15.3 points, 8.0 boards and a career-high 4.3 assists.

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan likes his roster, as long as he can keep his top players on the court.

“Last year, we had a quite few players miss games,” said Sloan, who is entering his 19th season. “Boozer missed games, Kirilenko missed games, Matt Harpring had knee surgery last summer, and wound up playing in 71 games, but he was limited in terms of how many minutes he could play in those games.”

Utah’s question marks lie in the backcourt, although point guard Deron Williams enters after a solid rookie campaign. The Jazz have several candidates at shooting guard, though none are impressive from a group of rookie Ronnie Brewer, 19-year-old C.J. Miles and veteran Gordan Giricek.

Utah, which has won three straight season openers, also acquired veteran guard Derek Fisher from Golden State in the offseason.

Houston has dropped 16 of its last 18 trips to Salt Lake City, including an 85-83 loss in its lone visit last season.

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Wednesday, Nov 1