If you're a fan, you should be one of two places on Friday, Jan. 17: in a seat at the Compaq Center in Houston (a pair of center court seats can be yours for $2,000 on eBay) or in front of your TV.
You better make it a large-screen TV. You're going to need it if you want to see Yao Ming and Shaquille O'Neal go at it as the Lakers visit the Rockets (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) for the first-ever meeting between the most popular center in the West and Shaq.
Their meeting Friday has more subplots than a Russian novel. The Lakers have won seven of their last 10, are 17-20 as of Monday and are 2½ games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
Shaq has been nothing short of stellar in those last 10 games, averaging 26.3 points and 11 rebounds per game. In those 10 games, the Big Fella has also been especially amazing from the field, shooting nearly 60 percent (99-for-166), a category in which he leads the league (57.2 percent).
Then there's Yao, who banged knees with Denver's Nene Hilario on Saturday. Yao is expected to play this week.
Yao is also No. 2 in the league behind Shaq in field goal percentage (54.2 percent) and No. 1 among Western Conference centers in All-Star voting. (NBA.com)
And it's not as if most basketball fans in Shanghai are stuffing the e-ballot box for Yao. Most of the voting in China mirrors the votes cast here in the States. (New York Times)
In response to this development, Shaq has been gracious: "It happens to the best of us," O'Neal told the Houston Chronicle. "When I came in, I beat out Patrick Ewing."
However, Shaq was discovered recently to be less-than-gracious about Yao when the Lakers center made some comments nearly six months ago. As many of you know, race came into play when Shaq discussed Yao.
Shaq has apologized and Yao accepted the apology magnanimously. (Los Angeles Times)
As for others' response, here's what NBA Commissioner David Stern had to say: "My reaction was, that sports once again has the opportunity to teach us about how perceived jokes or remarks that we might consider in a normal course are hurtful, harmful and irresponsible.
"And I think Shaq responded appropriately, and Yao did too. It also shows the power of the Internet because the remarks were from several months ago and they got a second life, as they should have, because it gives us the opportunity to use sports to deal with sensitivity." (The Arizona Republic)
As for sports, let's hope Shaq and Yao are good ones on Friday.
BIG STAR, LITTLE STAR
Yao is also making his mark off the court. The Rockets center stars in a new commercial for iMac PowerBooks with Verne Troyer (Mini-Me). You'll need Quicktime to see it. It's worth it.
ONCE AND FUTURE KINGS
All season long we've noted the folly of Mike Bibby's preseason prediction that the Kings would win 70 games (see table).
While we've had some fun with the prediction, we've always known the Kings are no joke. On Thursday, nothing proved that point better than when the Kings went all Hannibal Lecter and filleted the Nets 118-82 in New Jersey.
How impressive was the Kings' win? To that point, the Nets had won 10 straight games and were a league-best 18-1 at home. Sacramento center Vlade Divac called it "an almost perfect game." The Kings shot 51.7 percent from the field, 50 percent from three-point range, 81.8 percent from the line and even Mateen Cleaves played eight minutes.
The beat down was so complete, Nets fans turned on their team. (To which head coach Byron Scott responded by putting a finger to his lips -- which finger we don't know -- asking the vociferous fans to pipe down.) (New York Post)
Sure, they hiccupped the next night in Minnesota, but at 28-10 in the Pacific, the Kings are four games ahead of the simmering Suns and four behind the Mavs for the best record in the Western Conference. And who do the Kings meet on Wednesday? Those same said Mavs in Sacramento.
You may want to catch it on ESPN (9 p.m. ET). It promises to be a whale of a contest.
AND CAN YOU THROW IN A SIX-PACK?
Want to buy an NBA team? If you have 17 billion (that's $170 million) pennies lying around the house and if you live in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Bucks could be yours. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) bought the team in 1985 for $18 million.
As one Milwaukee columnist put it, Kohl saved the Bucks in '85. Who will save the Bucks now? (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
This Tuesday, Glenn Robinson (if he's not hurt) returns to Milwaukee for the first time since his trade to Atlanta this offseason. (Atlanta Journal Constitution)
But he's not the only Hawk with Milwaukee ties, as no less than six players and coaches spent time in Wisconsin. First they take the Braves, now this. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Who's the Wizards' MVP? This may surprise you. (New York Times)
According to the Denver Post, Marcus Camby (remember him?) may return on Jan. 20. (Denver Post)
In case you didn't know, the Sixers' 15-4 record this season mirrored the start to their Eastern Conference title season Well, they've gone 4-14 since then and even Allen Iverson isn't providing the answers. In a moment of candor, coach Larry Brown said this: "You [reporters] remember what I said: I didn't feel good about this team from Day 1." Uh, how 'bout them Eagles! (Philadelphia Daily News)
The Magic are still waiting for some magic. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Welcome (back), Charlotte. This time, it could be better. (NY Daily News)
Easy baskets lead to winning? Everyone should follow the Jazz's example. (Salt Lake Tribune)
Yeah, these kids are good. (CNNSI.com)
Another good story (or multiple stories) about Amare Stoudemire's rise. (Baltimore Sun)
CLONE RESPONSES (CLONE RESPONSES)
Cloning? For it or against it, you can't deny that it would be fun to see some of the world's greatest athletes cloned. Here are your responses to last week's question as to what NBA player you would clone.
Travis, Seaford, Del.: If I could clone one guy to make up my starting lineup it would have to be Dirk Nowitzki. He is a very versatile player. He has the height, rebounding ability and shot-blocking ability to play center and power forward. He has the speed and shooting ability to play small forward and two guard. I don't know how well he would fare at point guard, but given that he has a little bit of handle and has his "self" around him, he knows what he is capable of and he would know how to make plays for "himself."
Eric, Vancouver, British Columbia: I hear people asking who would win: the first generation Dream Team (Magic, Bird, Jordan) or today's Dream Team (McGrady, Kobe, Shaq). Others ask how Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell and other greats would fare today. Well, for these reasons I would clone not just one person, but all the greats, and pit each generation in the greatest of all-time tournament.
(Click and Roll: Hmmm! Not a bad idea.)
But if I could only choose one, it would have to be Wilt Chamberlain, he had records no one could touch, therefore he would be the benchmark for which todays players would see how they match up against the greatest player of his time, and perhaps all time. I also wish I could watch Kidd versus Oscar Robertson. They are so similar in their playing style.
Emer, Federated States of Micronesia: For me, the five players that should be "cloned" would be Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaq "Attack" O'Neal. Well, for the Sixth Man, if it's still possible to include, what the heck, put in Kobe Bryant. More power to you "Click and Roll!"
(Click and Roll: And many thanks to you!)
William of Lansing, Mich.: I would clone M.J. for many obvious reasons. No one leads a floor or team like he does, besides, he is the best player ever, right? RIGHT!
(Click and Roll: OK, we get it!)
Ahye, Malaysia: The Big O and Larry Bird. These two players can show the NBA that you don't need crazy athleticism and excessive dunks to make yourself a legend.
Bishoy of Winter Park, Fla.: I would definitely duplicate T-Mac, because he's the funnest player to watch.
(Click and Roll: Funnest? We'll let that grammar slide this time.)
T-Mac can shoot, he can drive and he most certainly can posterize. Also, just wanted to thank y'all, because you kept your promise about writing a lot about my boy Amare.
(Click and Roll: How can we not write about Amare Stoudemire. He's good.)
Rocky of Huntington Beach, Calif.: I would clone Kobe Bryant. The only way to stop him is to double or triple team him. There are not many 10 player teams to handle five Kobes. Plus five Kobe's would "D" up all five of the other players and they would not get off a shot. The big guys would get stripped and the small guys would get stuffed. Additionally, the opposition would not even think of trying a full court press with five "Mad Handles" Kobe's handling the ball. Too bad there is only one Kobe.
(Click and Roll: But that's what makes him so special. There's only one.)
Richard of Indianapolis: If I could clone anyone in the nba it would be Ron Artest. He is the most energetic player in the game, and when one of them breaks a TV camera, there will still be four of them left.
(Click and Roll: Excellent point.)
Alisa of McKinney, Texas: I would like to see a team of Steve Nash clones. The acrobatics and gravity defying shots would leave any crowd stunned with amazement. Now that would be entertainment!
(Click and Roll: And fine entertainment, at that.)
Rob Peterson, NBA.com