LOS ANGELES, Nov. 17 (Ticker) -- Yao Ming
has a date with Charles
Forcing the boisterous Barkley to back up a bold statement, Yao
had a breakthrough game with a season-high 20 points as the
Houston Rockets survived an electrifying performance by Kobe
in a 93-89 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
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The top pick in the 2002 draft, Yao has struggled as he tries to
learn American ways and NBA basketball. On TNT's postgame show
Thursday night, co-host Barkley said he would "kiss his (rear)"
if Yao scored 19 points in a game.
"I don't think Yao will let him," Rockets guard Steve Francis
said. "His customs and respect for himself are pretty high in
order for him to do something like that. I guess Charles was
just joking when he made that comment."
Barkley may have to pucker up. The 7-5 Chinese rookie was
9-of-9 from the field as he displayed an up-and-under move and a
deadly perimeter jumper, several of the skills that had scouts
raving about him over the summer.
"I have realized on offense that I have to take advantage of my
opportunities on offense and be more aggressive," Yao said
through an interpreter.
"He understands basketball stuff very well," Houston coach Rudy
Tomjanovich said. "he had a great practice yesterday and it's
coming to him. Then he just used different shots. I can't be
happier with his progress."
Bryant won shootouts with Yao in the second quarter and Francis
in the fourth period on his way to a season-high 46 points. But
he came up empty on an uncontested finger roll with Los Angeles
trailing, 90-89, with nine seconds left. Cuttino Mobley
two free throws for a three-point cushion and Bryant missed a
contested 3-pointer with one second left.
"The shot should have fell, but we still had a lot of missed
opportunities before that to do something positive," Bryant
said. "They came over to take a charge and I didn't want to run
over the guy, so I hopped-skipped it and the ball just didn't
roll in for me."
Francis scored 27 points for the Rockets, who ended a seven-game
skid to the Lakers. Maurice Taylor
had nine points and Francis
added five to fuel a 17-4 run - much of which came with Bryant
on the bench - as Houston took a 76-68 lead with just over eight
Bryant energized a comeback, scoring 13 straight Lakers points,
including a 3-pointer to slice the deficit to 87-86 with 1:46 to
The Rockets got a nifty pass from rookie Juaquin Hawkins
who converted a layup and fouled out Samaki Walker
process. Yao completed the three-point play for his final
points with 60 seconds to go.
"He's long, you know," Walker said. "That helps offensively.
Offensively, he played well. But there's no comparison (to
Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal
). No comparison."
"He has all the skills to be effective in the league," Bryant
said. "It's just a matter of his determination, his confidence
and his belief in himself. He hurt us tonight. We were soft in
the middle and he took advantage tonight."
snapped Bryant's string with a 3-pointer and the
Lakers got the ball back when Houston had a shot-clock
violation. Bryant, who made tough shots all game, was isolated
and took it straight to the basket but back-rimmed one of his
"It happens; ask Houston. Francis missed a layup in the final
seconds of the Phoenix game on Friday night and they lost a
one-point game," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "It happens to
players, it's a shot you have to make but it certainly surprised
all of us."
Yao's second quarter was his best basketball to date. He went
right past Slava Medvedenko
on one move and put home a dunk off
a feed from Francis on another. He scored 12 points in the
period, but Bryant overshadowed him with 16 of his own.
One of Yao's more surprising plays was an aggressive offensive
rebound he grabbed over two Lakers before banking it in, the
kind of play that many Rockets had been waiting for in addition
to some dunks.
"I was happy that he was aggressive and dunking the ball,"
Francis said. "From his country, you are not supposed to dunk
the ball, but we have been on his back from day one saying that
if you do not dunk the ball, you are not going to score."
Yao's 23 minutes were one shy of a season high.
"There was never any doubt in our mind that he can play," Taylor
said. "We knew that once he got comfortable, the games were
going to get better and the minutes that he will get are going
to be better. You saw the finished product tonight."
"I haven't seen him a whole lot yet, but he sure did (well)
tonight," Lakers forward Rick Fox
said. "His presence in the
middle was a little overwhelming."
Bryant had 15 points in the fourth to 11 for Francis, who
matched Bryant on several possessions with clutch shots down the
stretch. Taylor, Francis and Yao each had consecutive
three-point plays. Yao cupped the ball with one hand before
being fouled by Tracy Murray
Yao added six rebounds as he played the entire fourth quarter
after sitting out the third period. The game was supposed to be
his first showdown with an injured O'Neal, who made
brash remarks about what he would do to Yao when the two met up.
O'Neal had complimentary things to say about Yao before the
"Congratulations to Mr. Ming," O'Neal said. "He's done a lot for
his country. He shall be 'The Man' in a few years to come. But
for a rookie he's doing A-plus work. However, whenever you have
a guy who comes in like that you must taken it to him before he
takes it to you. That will be my job."
Bryant made 19-of-37 shots and 9-of-11 from the line in another
virtuoso performance for Los Angeles. He had little help from
his teammates as Fisher chipped in 17 points and no other
Laker reached double figures. Los Angeles fell for the seventh
time in 10 games.
"Well, we won't easily forget what these first 10 games have
felt like, that's for sure," Fox said. "We've got a lot of
catching up to do."