Emeka Okafor is studying other post players in order to become one of the best big men in the NBA. He’ll match up against a good role model on Sunday when his Charlotte Bobcats host Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets.
Okafor has been a solid contributor in three seasons since the Bobcats made him the second overall pick of the 2004 draft. However, frequent injuries and a lack of consistency have prevented the 6-foot-10, 255-pound forward from becoming a dominant force.
There was no doubting Okafor on Friday, though, as he had 25 points and 23 rebounds to lead the Bobcats (3-2) to a 96-87 win over Indiana. He was 10-for-14 from the field in the second 20-20 game of his career.
“I’ve been looking at other big men and what they do and watching what I do and kind of just comparing,” said Okafor, a Houston native who lists Yao and former Rockets great Hakeem Olajuwon as two of the stars he’s tried to emulate. “I was just trying to figure out what it was and trying to get it back.”
Okafor’s performance on Friday helped Charlotte bounce back from consecutive defeats by a combined 63 points. Okafor totaled only 11 points and 18 rebounds in those games.
“Emeka really is our heart and soul,” Bobcats coach Sam Vincent said. “When he’s got a thunderous heartbeat like he did tonight, our team plays with thunder.”
Charlotte forward Gerald Wallace, who led all players with 28 points on Friday, was just as impressed as his coach was with Okafor’s big night.
“I told Mek I haven’t seen that since his rookie season,” he said. “I told him we need him and we need those kind of performances if we’re going to be a playoff team.”
In their four-year history, the Bobcats have been two games above .500 only once - when they opened this season with consecutive wins. Getting back to that mark could be a challenge against the Rockets (5-1), who are tied for the best record in the Western Conference.
Houston is coming off a 104-88 victory over Milwaukee in the much-hyped first meeting between Chinese national team stars Yao and the Bucks’ Yi Jianlian. Yi had the best game of his young rookie season, but Yao got the better of the matchup with 28 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots. The game was broadcast on 19 television networks in China, and NBA officials were expecting the largest-ever viewing audience for a game, well over 200 million.
“When I stepped on the court, I didn’t think about that,” said Yao, averaging 22.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.7 blocks. “All I saw was 18,000 fans here, that’s it. I know that there are many in China, my family and my friends. But when I play on the court, I focus on basketball.”
Yao has averaged 19.0 points and 9.7 rebounds in three career games against the Bobcats.
Okafor, meanwhile, has been Charlotte’s key to success against Houston. He averaged 21.7 points and 12.0 rebounds as the Bobcats franchise won its first three games against the Rockets. Charlotte has lost three straight against Houston, however, with Okafor appearing in two of those games while averaging just 11.5 points and 9.0 boards.