NBA Playoffs Game 3 Preview: Yao At Center Of Rockets' Adjustments

Two years ago, Tracy McGrady made headlines by telling the world the Rockets' playoff success or failure was all on him.

Flash forward to today, and it's all on Yao Ming, and the world knows it. So do the Blazers.

After losing Game 2 in Portland, the Rockets have quite a few adjustments to make before Game 3 on Friday night here at Toyota Center -- and two of the biggest ones involve the Rockets' prized center.

Of course, one of the most important changes for Yao is out of the Rockets' hands.

Led by lead official Joey Crawford, the officiating in Tuesday's Game 2 was so abhorrent, so awful at times that it seemed Rockets' announcers were on the verge of laughing from the ineptitude. (Good thing the Rockets themselves didn't, because Crawford has a history of ejecting players for laughing.)

Crawford is not expected to referee Game 3 in Houston, so that's one less thing for head coach Rick Adelman to worry about. But aside from officiating gripes, the Rockets and Yao certainly have room for improvement.

I broke down my five biggest areas of concern, and for analysis, spoke with resident Rockets guru David Hardisty. If that name doesn't sound familiar, you might better know him as "Clutch" -- the founder of the legendary Rockets' fan site clutchfans.net. Here's our take on five of the most pressing issues entering this weekend's games.

5.) Yao has gotten into foul trouble in each of the first two games, notching his fourth foul mid-way through the third quarter. How does he stay on the floor?

Dave Hardisty: One of Portland's primary goals is to get Yao in foul trouble -- I think that's Joel Przybilla's only goal, actually. They're going to post Oden up on him to try to draw fouls as well as have Roy throw his body into him on drives, and at times (as we saw in Game 2), he's going to be victim of a bad call or two. I don't think you'll see him get horrendous calls at home, so I think as long as he stays away from the "swipes" and keeps his post position and hands up he'll be fine.

4.) When Carl Landry was out for three weeks, much was made of how his absence hurt the team and how he was necessary for the playoffs. In two games against Portland, he has five points. What happened - is Portland a bad matchup for him?

DH: This surprised me as I expected him to have a bigger impact, but I do think defensively he's a weaker option. Aldridge is a tough cover for him and so is Travis Outlaw, but the Rockets need to find a way because his offensive skillset can really help break the fronting defenses that Nate McMillan will employ.

3.) With Dikembe Mutombo out for the playoffs, should 6-foot-6 Chuck Hayes continue to take Mutombo's minutes off the bench, as he did in Game 2? How big of a dropoff is this against Portland's size?

DH: I'd say Hayes will definitely see increased minutes. It's a night-and-day difference on defense -- you're talking about a tree compared to a boulder. Hayes does a great job of keeping big guys from getting good position and blankets them as they make offensive moves, so I think he will do fine against an Oden or Aldridge, but the Rockets won't have the shotblocking presence when Yao goes out. That will hurt against the likes of Brandon Roy, who has been relentless in his drives to the hoop.

2.) Von Wafer nearly saved the Rockets in Game 2, keeping them close with 21 points in 27 minutes. However, Adelman pulled him with five minutes remaining, and the Rockets' late-game offense went flat. Is it time to consider having Wafer close out a game, if he's hot?

DH: In this series I think so. His Game 2 performance was very impressive -- in the second quarter alone he scored 12 points, but it was the way he and Kyle Lowry attacked the basket that kept the game tight. Wafer touched the ball 12 times in the quarter and looked for his own offense nine times...seven of those times he went strong to the rack. He's got tunnel vision quite a bit and can take too much upon himself, but he has the ability to bust Portland's Yao-centric defense.

1.) Despite the foul trouble, Yao still played 31 minutes in Game 2 -- and shot only six times. For the team's only superstar, that's unacceptable. What are some keys to beating Portland's fronting schemes and getting him more shots?

DH: I really think the Rockets can keep Portland on its toes by showing different looks with Yao, including having him set high screens or have him operate with the ball out high, but the Rockets have suggested behind the scenes that they're just not as effective that way. If he's posting up and being fronted, the Rockets (and Yao) have to quickly move the ball around and Yao has to do a better job sealing off his man and reestablishing position. It's also key for his teammates to penetrate to the basket. With a shotblocker like Greg Oden or Joel Przybilla out front of Yao, the lane shouldn't be as heavily patrolled by shotblockers. I think you'll see the Rockets adjust here.

With the series back in Houston, DuBose will be at Toyota Center for both Games 3 and 4 with full coverage for Hair Balls. For more immediate Rockets talk, go to twitter.com/BenDuBose.

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