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Another factor you have to keep in mind when talking about these two teams is injuries because they both had their fair share during the season with superstars out of the lineup. If Yao, McGrady, Boozer or Kirilenko were to go down during the series, it would hurt each ballclub.
Finally, I think there is going to be a lot of half court play, which means there is going to be a lot of rugged play. You’ve got two teams here, one team leads the league in defensive rebounding – Houston – while Utah is near the top in offensive rebounding. That calls for a lot of scrums and a lot of work for the officials underneath the basket. I think that is where you’ll see Utah try to take the game physically. I think both of these clubs are capable of keeping each other from running, but if one team is able to get a running game going, that is going to be an important surprise factor.
On the defensive side of the ball, Utah has a problem. They can’t match up one on one with Yao. They’re going to have to do a lot of cheating. The teams that have double and triple-teamed Yao have had more success than those who have tried to play in front of him or play him legitimately with one man. Utah has a problem size-wise. I think they are going to make Yao prove that he can handle the attack underneath. They’ll try to run, beat him downcourt and set a pace for Yao where they’ll get him in to foul trouble and resting on his knees every once in a while. The big factor is whether Fisher or Williams is big enough to take McGrady when he goes to work in the post.
Defensively, Yao is going to have a problem with Mehmet Okur because he is probably the best three-point shooting center in the NBA (38.4%) He’ll step out and shoot them like he’s a two guard. Yao is going to have a problem there coming out, which will also hold true for his backup, Dikembe Mutombo, when he is in there.
Both coaches are very capable of making adjustments game to game. Jerry has a lot of experience. I’ve coached two series against him, once when he was in Chicago and once when he was in Utah, and he’s very good at adjusting game to game. He’ll substitute during the game and his decisions are very good. With Jeff, you are going to see a guy who has really been hungry to get a team past the first round and who is very, very prepared. There won’t be any surprises for his team. He’ll use a very tight rotation, eight players usually. You’re going to see Jeff really, really pushing his team into an inside-out offense with Yao. They do a great job of that. His adjustments will have to be made after he sees how they hold up on the boards with Utah. There won’t be many surprises, but you’ll see some changes defensively as the series goes on.
-- Bill Fitch appears courtesy of the National Basketball Coaches Association