Wednesday , Feb , 11 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Round Two: Shaq vs. Yao

Houston, TX (Sports Network) – Round two of the Shaquille O’Neal-Yao Ming
battle takes center stage at the Toyota Center tonight, when the Houston
Rockets host the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers will be armed with All-Star guard Kobe Bryant this evening, as he
is set to return from a lacerated finger. Bryant had 15 stitches removed from
the jagged cut in his right index finger Monday morning. He has missed seven
consecutive games because of the injury.

Ming and the Rockets got the best of the Lakers on Christmas Day, tallying a
99-87 win at the Staples Center. Houston has won three of the last five
meetings in this series, but the Lakers have take nine of the past 12 overall.
Los Angeles has picked up wins in four of its last five trips to Houston.

The Lakers are finishing up their season-long, seven-game road trip, during
which they have posted a 4-2 mark. Los Angeles has tallied an 11-14 mark on
foreign hardwood this season.

Los Angeles is coming off back-to-back wins in the Sunshine State, including a
98-83 victory over Miami Tuesday night. Shaquille O’Neal anchored the Lakers
to the win with 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Derek Fisher added 18 points
in the contest.

Devean George added 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Gary Payton posted 17
points, seven boards and six assists. The Lakers hit 49.4 percent from the
field, including 6-of-16 from three-point range.

Houston had a three-game winning streak stopped Monday night, falling 85-82 to
the San Antonio Spurs. The Rockets have lost five of their last eight games

Steve Francis scored 18 points with a season-high 11 rebounds and six assists
for the Rockets in the loss. Yao scored 25 points to lead Houston in the
contest. Yao is averaging 18 points and 7.3 rebounds in his last three games.
He has scored in double digits in 13 of his last 15 contests.

Jim Jackson finished with 11 points and nine boards. The Rockets finished just
3-of-19 from three-point range.

The Rockets have won seven of their last 11 home games, improving to 16-8 at
the Toyota Center. Houston hasn’t allowed over 100 points in its last 25