(Boulder-CO) In a rare afternoon game, we celebrate Martin Luther King Day with the Denver Nuggets taking on the Houston Rockets. The Nuggets are fresh off their longest home stand of the year of which they fared 5-2 overall despite losing Carmelo to a broken hand that is going to keep the All-Star sidelined until at least the end of January. The Rockets started off the new year on the wrong foot losing their first three games in 2009, but have since rebounded nicely winning four out of their last five contests.
The Rockets have always had a giant liability on their roster by the name of Tracy McGrady. Whether it’s his testy back that has a history chocked full of spasms or his more recent chronically sore knee, the Rockets are playing without him again. Houston will also be without Ron Artest today due to a balky ankle that he injured in the Rockets’ loss to the Lakers last week. The two combined, when healthy, are averaging over 30 points for the Rockets and in their absence Houston has been starting former Nugget, Von Wafer, and Shane Battier.
Battier is coming off a foot injury himself and has slowly been working himself back into the fold, but Wafer has been everything the Rockets have needed in McGrady’s absence and that Nuggets wanted him to be. Wafer is averaging 16.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, and two rebounds over his last five games, including a 23-point outburst against the Lakers in the aforementioned loss.
So, now that Houston’s injury report is handled, we’ve got to take a look at Yao Ming. The Rockets’ center is having another All-Star caliber year and is taking the load dumped on him by his teammates’ injuries and running with it. In his last outing, Ming set a new Rockets’ franchise record by hitting all twelve of his field goal attempts and grabbed eight rebounds finishing with 26 points. Yao also scored 19 points, grabbed 17 rebounds and handed out five assists during the Rockets' 105-100 loss to the Lakers in just 32 minutes of playing time. The first time these teams met, Yao struggled, if you can say that, with a double-double of 18 points and eleven rebounds on just 5-12 from the field. The Nuggets won that game at home, 104-94. But, in the second meeting with the Nuggets this year, Yao really hurt Denver with 32 points and seven rebounds as the Rockets won that contest, 108-96, in Houston. So, for the Nuggets to win today it is paramount of the Denver bigs that they slow down Houston’s primary offensive weapon. They can do this a number of ways: First is by foul trouble from taking the ball right at Yao early. The Nuggets can also immediately double team him when he gets the ball and force him to rely on his teammates offensively or another way is to get this game going at a breakneck pace and have Ming lost in transition. Either way, anyway, the Nuggets key to success today is to keep Ming from taking over the game offensively for the Rockets as he is their only player that can single handedly carry Houston to victory.