While Shaquille O’Neal has been engaged in a war of words with a former coach, one Western Conference center is siding with the Phoenix big man.
Usually looking to slow down the future Hall of Famer, Yao Ming offered O’Neal his support following Houston’s last game.
On Friday night, though, Yao will go for his eighth win in his head-to-head battle with O’Neal as the Rockets try to hand the Suns their third consecutive loss in what has already been an eventful road swing.
After the Suns opened the four-game trip Tuesday with a 111-99 loss to Orlando - a game hyped as a battle between O’Neal and center Dwight Howard - Magic coach Stan Van Gundy took a jab at O’Neal, who tried to get a charge call on Howard by falling to the court.
“It’s not often that I will needle Shaq, because he’s a big guy and he played for me and helped me win a lot of games,” said Van Gundy, who coached O’Neal in Miami in 2004-05 and the first 21 games of 2005-06 before resigning. “But he always talks about people flopping. Only one big guy tried to flop tonight. He tried to flop.”
O’Neal, never one to back down from a physical or verbal sparring session, had plenty to say about Van Gundy’s comments prior to Wednesday’s 135-129 loss to Miami.
“I know for a fact he’s a master of panic and when it gets time for his team to go into the postseason and do certain things, he will let them down because of his panic,” he said. “I’ve been there before. I’ve played for him.”
O’Neal, averaging 29.8 points and 9.3 rebounds during his last four games, fouled out Wednesday as Phoenix (34-27) lost for the fifth time in six road games.
Yao fouled out for the first time since Dec. 1, 2007, at Sacramento, as Houston (39-23) dropped its last game, 101-94 at Utah on Wednesday.
“Every time a defender player is on the ground, even if he just wants to sit down and have a rest, it’s my offensive foul,” Yao said after scoring 19 points and grabbing seven boards. “That’s unfair.
“I guess I don’t need to worry about (a) flopper next game. I don’t think Shaq’s that type of player.”
In the teams’ only meeting this season, Yao had 17 points and 15 rebounds. O’Neal had 18 points and 13 boards to pace Phoenix, but the visiting Rockets won 94-82 on Nov. 12.
O’Neal, though, still holds a 9-7 edge in all-time matchups with Yao.
The Nov. 12 game was marred by a scuffle between Rafer Alston and first-year Phoenix forward Matt Barnes, and it further escalated when Tracy McGrady shoved Steve Nash and O’Neal pushed McGrady to the floor. Any carryover effect from that incident will likely be minimal as Alston was traded to Orlando on Feb. 19 and McGrady had season-ending microfracture surgery on his left knee last month.
Nash had a season-high 29 points and 10 assists Wednesday. He’s averaging 24.5 points, 9.0 assists and 6.0 boards in two games after missing three with a sprained right ankle.
Nash’s double-double streak in Houston was snapped at five when he had six points and nine assists in the Suns’ last game at the Toyota Center - a 101-90 loss on April 11, 2008.
Ron Artest had one of his worst games of the season against Phoenix on Nov. 12, scoring a season-low four points on 1-of-12 shooting. The first-year Rocket, though, is scoring 23.3 points per game on 54.4 percent shooting in his last four contests.