Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Yao's 5 Toughest Matchups: Booze & Memo (No. 1)

Carlos Boozer (UTA)
6-9, 266 lbs | 6 years pro

Mehmet Okur (UTA)
6-11, 263 lbs | 6 years pro

Head-to-head in '07-'08, Record 0-1
CB: 30 pts, .520 FG%, 16 rebs, 5 TOs
MO: 16 pts, .500 FG%, 3 3FGs, 10 rebs
YM: 11 pts, .357 FG%, 7 rebs, 6 TOs

DIAGNOSIS: The amount of sheer hatred that these two Jazzees inspire in Rockets fans is enough to place them in the no. 1 spot. The Jazz are strongest where the Rockets are weak. Point guard and mobility/versatility in the front-court. Boozer may be undersized at 6-9 but unlike Dwight Howard, Booze is bottom heavy and consistently able to force Yao to post up further from the rim than he likes. And his lower center of gravity mixed with excellent footwork, gives Yao fits.

Mehmet Okur is a different look, kind of like how NFL teams like to change it up with their backfield. Don't know if Steve Slaton & Ahman Green qualifies yet but you get the picture. Mehmet is just old school in the low-post. Meaning he's a hack. He even looks a little like Bill Laimbeer.

Okur will push, shove, knee, trip, elbow and hack until the refs call it. He leaves it up to them. If Yao can get square, solid position, Okur has no answer. And for that matter, neither does Boozer, but both do a hell of a job to prevent that.

Then there's defense by offense. Yao just can not stick Boozer. He's too powerful, too agile and too crafty. Spins, hooks, up-and-unders... you name it, Booze does it. And he hits the mid-range jumper off the pick & roll. He's Yao's personal nightmare on defense.

Then there's Okur, who's big but won't take one step inside the 3-pt line with Yao on the court. Okur's range from the arc hurts Yao because he doesn't have the mobility to challenge and get back to the paint to protect. Not many front-court players do. This is how the Jazz have lived in the West with theoretically less talent than other Western Conference powerhouses but the toughest thing for Yao is these guys are as young as he is and don't look like they're going anywhere soon.

PROGNOSIS: Once again, Artest saves the day. We might not all agree as Rockets fans that T-Mac gave everything he could in last season's first round exit at the hands of the Jazz, but we should be able to agree that it wasn't enough to get Houston to advance.

Enter Ron-Ron. If for some freak of odds or grand joke of destiny brings the Jazz back to a first round with Houston, Artest will of course, take defensive pressure off of McGrady and Yao. And even if Boozer and Okur (with Kirilenko and Harpring on double help) manage to keep slow Yao significantly, McGrady won't have to carry as much of the scoring load which should keep him from running out of the gas the way he did at the end of the Utah series.

Ultimately, the Jazz are the benchmark on how to play the Rockets in the playoffs. Make their supporting cast beat you. Double up T-Mac and Yao with physical play and wear them down. The difference of a Ron Artest won't really be felt until then, when teams are singularly focused on winning, which is why Houston needs Ron-Ron to make it there.

There's a formula for the regular season, one that is keyed on teams running their stuff and defining the rotation. Then, there's the playoffs, where you tighten up the reins and do whatever it takes to win. Artest changes the way teams can hunker down on the Rockets offense. If Yao can get consistent one-on-one match-ups against the Jazz, it won't matter who's back there.

No comments: