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Yao is big obstacle to Lakers' chances

YAO Ming stands as a big obstacle in the Los Angeles Lakers' way of returning to the National Basketball Association finals.

Just not as big as Lamar Odom thought.

Though Yao is listed at 2.29 meters, Odom made the Chinese star even bigger when discussing the Houston Rockets' center after practice on Saturday.

"I've never played against a player that was 7-7 (2.31) and so skilled," the Lakers forward said. "He can really shoot, has passing ability.

"He has a high IQ for the game. He's so wide down low, too. He's hard to get around."

When informed that Yao is actually 7-6 (2.29), Odom laughed.

"Shoot, it doesn't make a difference after that," Odom joked, "7-7, 7-6; same thing. He's tall."

Finding a way to run their offense efficiently with Yao in the paint and trying to contain him are top priorities for the Lakers, who will host the Rockets in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals tomorrow (Shanghai time).

Lakers coach Phil Jackson has been impressed with the way Yao has increased his stamina to play more minutes. In four regular-season games against the Lakers, Yao averaged 15.8 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.2 blocks while playing 33.8 minutes per game.

The Lakers swept the season series against the Rockets for the first time since the 2001-02 season, winning by an average of 13 points. During those four contests, the Lakers averaged 102.8 points while holding the Rockets to 89.8 points.

That means little to the Lakers, who are aware that regular-season results don't mean anything once the playoffs start. Jackson noted that several key players from each team didn't play each time they faced each other.

"I think they understand the regular season has a lot of parameters to it," Jackson said.

"There's a lot that goes into the regular season that doesn't match up in the playoffs.

"This is a whole new ballgame now."

The Lakers haven't played since finishing off the Utah Jazz in Game 5 of their first-round series last Monday.

The time off has given the players an opportunity to rest and has been especially beneficial for Lakers forward Luke Walton, who is nursing a sprained ankle, but may be available to play this series.


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