Kings start slow but finish strong

SHANGHAI, China (AP) -- Playing in his hometown before an adoring

crowd that chanted his name, Yao Ming had the jitters.

He missed his first two shots and allowed Brad Miller to score

against him repeatedly early in the first quarter.

Soon, though, he settled down, finishing with 14 points to lead

the Houston Rockets to an 88-86 win over the Sacramento Kings on

Thursday in the first exhibition game played in China.

"I didn't play a great game. I was really nervous in the first

half. It was almost like the feeling I had playing in my first NBA

game," Yao said. "I felt suffocated and I just wanted to find an

exit, but I just tried to focus on technical details and then

things settled down."

In addition to leading the Rockets in scoring, Yao played 27

minutes and grabbed seven rebounds. The teams will play another

exhibition game Sunday in Beijing.

Yao said another factor for his slow start may have been the

heavy schedule of appearances ranging from television appearances

to a visit to his old primary school to promote reading.

"Those outside activities were very important to me, and to the

kids and others, but it did make it a little harder for me," Yao

said. "I felt much better today when I could get back on familiar

territory on the basketball court."

Yao scored in the seventh minute with a decisive dunk, then

added two more points on a short pass from Tracy McGrady. He was

replaced by Dikembe Mutombo with three minutes left in the quarter

as Houston fell behind 21-10. Yao returned in the second quarter

and quickly racked up eight more points, six of them on free throws

and two on an alley-oop from McGrady that drew big cheers from the

capacity crowd at Shanghai's city gymnasium.

It was the second pairing of Yao and McGrady since the two-time

scoring champion's move from the Orlando Magic in a trade last

summer. Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said he thought both players

could do better.

"I don't think either one played as well as they could have

tonight. But I think they'll have very good seasons, both

individually and together," Van Gundy said.

Liu Wei of Sacramento, a teammate of Yao's on China's national

team, entered the game a minute and a half into the second quarter

and got on the board three minutes later with a jump shot.

Yao had said he wouldn't cut Liu any slack and fouled him with

two minutes left in the half. On the ground, Liu looked up at Yao

for a helping hand, but Yao remained where he was, hands on his


Still, Yao had postgame praise for Liu, who started training

with Kings this summer.

"He played very well and his performance was really up to his

usual high standards," Yao said.

The Kings ended the third quarter ahead 72-67 on a 3-pointer by

Chris Webber from half-court at the buzzer. Sacramento stretched

its lead to nine points in the fourth quarter, but Houston fought

back and Tyronn Lue hit a pair of free throws to seal the win as

the crowd chanted "Yao Ming! Yao Ming!" and the hometown hero sat

on the bench and smiled.