One night after blowing a 17-point lead in the final six minutes, Yao towered over the Timberwolves with 17 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks in Houston’s 105-94 victory over Minnesota on Sunday.
“I walked past him and I’m at his waist,” said Randy Foye, Minnesota’s 6-foot-4 shooting guard. “He’s a huge human being. It’s tough to go in there and get shots over him.”
“You’ve got to learn from last night and you’ve got to come out and be resilient and turn it back around,” Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. “This is a really big game for us. Finally got a road win, stopped the road losing streak. Now, maybe we can build off that.”
The loss of Jefferson, who averaged 35 points and 17.5 rebounds in two meetings against Houston earlier this season, has forced the Wolves to play rookie Kevin Love out of position at center.
Love gave up more than eight inches and 60 pounds to the 7-foot-6, 310-pound Yao on the low block, and it was every bit the mismatch it looked like on paper.
On offense, Yao pushed and shoved Love all over the paint until he got into position for easy hook shots and layups. On defense, Yao swatted away three shots by Love and challenged countless others, even delivering an inadvertant elbow that got the rookie’s eyes watering in the third period.
“I think they used me well,” Yao said. “Not just saying passing me the ball, but my teammates really used me well. They used me, the double team, to get open looks for the rest of the team.”
When Tracy McGrady elected to have microfracture knee surgery to end his season, Artest moved into his starting spot, giving the Rockets a 6-7, 260-pound shooting guard in a pass-rushing defensive end’s body.
Artest had 32 points against the Bulls on Saturday night, but Chicago outscored the Rockets 23-3 in the final 5:51 for a stunning 105-102 victory.
Luis Scola had 15 points and 11 rebounds and Adelman left his starters in long after the game was decided to blow out a struggling team that has looked lost without its leader.
“I was always thinking about last night,” Yao said. “That’s like a nightmare.”
Welcome to the Timberwolves’ world.
Minnesota has increased its scoring without Jefferson, but at the expense of its defense. Coach Kevin McHale has lamented the soaring shooting percentages from opposing offenses, the result of too many wide open jump shots and easy layups.
It was more of the same on Sunday evening, when the Rockets opened the game a perfect 7-for-7 and made 12 of their first 14 shots. Artest capped that start with a soft jumper for a 25-15 lead in the first quarter. Houston shot 53 percent for the game.
The deciding run came in the third period, when Houston outscored Minnesota 17-0 over a six-minute stretch and never looked back.
“What these guys are learning is the NBA is a very, very tough league,” McHale said. “And teams don’t feel sorry for you. And teams don’t take it easy on you. … That’s a tough lesson. But they’ll be better for it.”
Wolves PG Sebastian Telfair sat out with a sore right groin. He is listed as day-to-day. … It was Brooks’ second career double-double. Both have come against the Wolves. … Carl Landry had 12 points off the bench for Houston. … After a day of negotiating with free agent WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman watched the game from courtside seats.