Yi/Yao II (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)
Rockets (26-20, 14-11 road, 10th West) @ Bucks (18-29, 13-7 home, 12th East)
Bucks Stats: Offense 20th (100.7 pts/100 poss), Defense 28th (107.8), Rebounding 19th (.501 rr), Pace 22nd (92.8)
Rockets Stats: Offense 18th (101.8 pts/100 poss), Defense 2nd (99.9), Rebounding 1st (.519 rr), Pace 16th (93.5)
Bucks Injuries: Michael Redd is day-to-day with a left knee strain. Desmond Mason is expected to return after being out with a torn ligament in his thumb.
Rockets Injuries: Tracy McGrady is day-to-day with the flu.
- Yao Ming's first 47 NBA games: 12.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.8 blocks in 27.4 minutes. 52.9 % field goals, 77.1 % free throws, 0.0 % three pointers. Yi Jianlian's first 47 NBA games: 9.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, and 1.0 block in 27.4 minutes. 43.7 % field goals, 82.7 % free throws, 31.6 % three pointers. The most interesting stat to draw from the comparison is that both players averaged the same amount of minutes. Comparing the two players, considering they play different styles and different positions, is altogether unfair but also inevitable. I'm sure Jeff Green and Brandan Wright and others chosen around Yi are glad they don't have to live up to such standards. In any event, rookies are always burdened with comparisons. Yao was frequently compared to Shaquille O'Neal early in his career. Like Yao already has, Yi is fast making a name for himself. Hopefully tonight will continue that process.
- Last night the Rockets beat the Pacers 106-103. Carl Landry, who played high school basketball for Milwaukee Vincent, scored 22 points on 9-11 shooting from the field. He added seven rebounds, a steal, and a block in 20 minutes off the bench. Landry has performed very well for the Rockets this year. He's averaging 7.6 points on a ridiculous 69.5 % shooting from the field. In addition to his excellent game last night, he's had a 7-7 game against the Timberwolves and a 4-4 game against the Sonics.
- The first time these teams met, Yao Ming scored 28 points along with 10 rebounds and three blocks. He made 14-14 from the line. Andrew Bogut meanwhile scored 10 points on 3-11 from the field along with five rebounds. After a wonderful first three weeks of January, Bogut has slowed somewhat in the few games. He's averaging 8.0 points and 6.5 rebounds in the last two games. Tonight provides a stage for Bogut to make a worldwide impression, going against one of the game's premier centers with hundreds of millions tuning in. Bogut and the Bucks should be well-rested, which can only help their sharpness. On two or more days rest this season, Bogut is averaging 15.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks.
- Tonight is supposed to celebrate the Bucks' return to good health, with Michael Redd and Desmond Mason back in action. However, don't expect the Bucks to be at full strength anytime soon. Tom Enlund of JS Online reports Mo Williams is hurting. He's currently vowing to play through the pain, but Williams indicated his thumb will require offseason surgery. In the meantime, Williams will continue to use taping as his preferred quick fix.
"I'm going to have to have surgery on it," Williams said when asked about his thumb. "It just depends on when I want to do it. My intentions are to do it when the season is over."
- The Rockets have many of the necessary ingredients to be a great team, as the stat comparison shows. They are the top rebounding team in basketball and have the league's second ranked defense. They also have a fantastic perimeter player and a dominant post player. They even have capable role players such as Chuck Hayes, Shane Battier, Luis Scola, Luther Head, Bonzi Wells, and Carl Landry. The team's biggest problem might be a familiar one: point guard play. The Rockets have a lot of point guards, but none can shoot. Rafer Alston is shooting 38.9 % from the field. Mike James is at 35.3 %. Aaron Brooks is shooting 42.7 % and Steve Francis is way down at 33.3 %. There is a ton of talent in that group, but not much consistency.
- The Yi/Yao matchup demands headlines, but they aren't literally going to match up on the court. However, a real on-court matchup pairs talented guards who started the season on fire, but have recently suffered criticism and from injuries. Through eight games this season, Tracy McGrady averaged 29.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 5.5 assists. The Rockets went 6-2 in that span. In November, Michael Redd averaged 24.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 3.8 assists, carrying the Bucks to a 7-6 record in the month. As brightly as the two shooting guards shined early this season, they have dimmed in the last month. McGrady has missed 13 of the past 21 games, and his Rockets are on the outside looking in at the playoffs. Redd missed seven games in January, and the Bucks went 3-7 in games he played in. All this might prove inconsequential because Redd is not a sure thing to play tonight.
"I want to play. It's a matter of making a wise decision, listening to what the doctors say, the trainers say. It's a matter of getting it right."
- Desmond Mason isn't the going to transform the Bucks into an Eastern Conference contender. However, he likes Milwaukee, has invisible wings, and most importantly, has the best +/- per minute of any Buck this season, -.033. That tells us he should have a positive impact tonight. Or at least have a less negative impact than anyone else on the team.
- This is perhaps the most exciting night of the year for the Bucks, with injured starters potentially returning to the lineup and the largest country in the world onlooking. Now there is more to look forward to: the Bucks have recalled guard Ramon Sessions, who absolutely tore up the D-League. With Mo Williams ailing, Sessions might even get some court time. I'm a point guard guy, and I've liked Sessions since his time in college, so I'm pretty excited to see what he can accomplish on this level.
- Charlie Villanueva welcomed and embraced Yi Jianlian, and didn't complain even after the rookie took over his starting power forward spot in the preseason. Now, with the Bucks struggling and Villanueva receiving limited minutes, he is questioning his role on the team. But guess what? He's still supporting Yi, and in fact is calling for the Bucks to experiment more with both talented forwards on the court at the same time. Villanueva wrote a lengthy and thoughtful blog post on Jan. 30 at NBA.com, which is very worth reading in its entirety. At this point in the season, it's worth trying Villanueva/Yi on the court together, but with Redd, Mason, and Sessions back in the picture, that probably just became less likely.
Looking at my situation overall, I ask myself at times, do I see myself here long-term? I must say the answer to that question doesn’t sit to comfortable with me. I don’t know what the future holds. Anything can happen in this business. I would really like to make Milwaukee a part of my future, but it doesn’t seem realistic at this point in time unless something changes. The moves made by management in the last few months indicate to me that I’m not as important as I once was to this team. I’m not completely sold on my role with the Milwaukee Bucks.
- Yi Jianlian will likely match up with Luis Scola. Scola isn't a typical rookie. He's an accomplished 27 years old and a crafty offensive player whose strong play has recently earned him a starting role. Scola has started three straight games and is averaging 8.3 points on 50.3 % shooting from the field.
- For all that has gone wrong for the Rockets this year, a glance at the standings reveals they are just 6.5 games back of the top seed in the Western Conference. That makes them closer to the top spot than the Magic, 8.0 games back in the East. We know the Warriors tripped up the Mavericks in the first round last year. There are going to be some very strong teams in the seventh and eighth seeds out West again this season, with the Rockets being a candidate for one of those final spots.
- Check out The Dream Shake and Jonathan Feigen's blog at the Houston Chronicle for more on the Rockets.