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Utah Jazz notes: Rockets: No Yao, McGrady
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

After playing the Houston Rockets 24 times the last three seasons -- 11 regular-season games as well as first-round playoff series in 2007 and 2008 -- the Jazz might be in for a case of mistaken identity tonight.

The Rockets will be back at EnergySolutions Arena, but without Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady . Their remaining cast is led by Trevor Ariza , last seen helping the L.A. Lakers to last season's championship before signing with Houston as a free agent.

Yao is likely out for the season after undergoing surgery -- once feared career-threatening -- that included a bone graft and realignment of his left foot. McGrady, meanwhile, underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee in February and could miss a full 12 months.

"The last five, six years, those two guys have been the cornerstone of the Rockets," Deron Williams said before Sunday's practice.

"It's definitely going to be different without them out there, but they're still a good team because of their system. They've still got solid players that are capable of winning ballgames."

Without Yao and McGrady, the remaining 13 players on Houston's roster -- which includes rookies David Andersen , Chase Budinger and Jermaine Taylor -- owned a combined career scoring average of 68.7 points entering the season.

Yet the Rockets have opened 2-1, beating Golden State and Portland, and are scoring 102 points a game. Williams cited Shane Battier and Carl Landry as "guys who are role players, but when called upon can step up and do big things."

"They're still a very good team, a terrific team," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "They're going to play hard. I've known [Houston coach] Rick [ Adelman ] for years. His teams always play hard. ... They're going to be there every night, in every game, because of who they are."

Big hopes

There's no telling how much center Kyrylo Fesenko will play against Houston, which starts 6-foot-9 Luis Scola and 6-foot-6 Chuck Hayes in the frontcourt, but Fesenko will look to build on his 10-point effort in Friday's victory over the L.A. Clippers.

"Just stay focused, be professional with everything," Fesenko said. "Stay consistent. That's all it takes. After you set some sort of level [of achievement], you cannot go any lower."

Asked about Fesenko's continued progress, Sloan said: "It's up to him. He's got to continue to work on his body and try to get himself in better shape so he can play harder and longer.

"He's done some of those things, but he's got to understand that it takes a lot of work to stay in shape, be in shape -- that's a huge part of this business."

Between Fesenko and Kosta Koufos , the Jazz got a combined 15 points and 11 rebounds from their young centers Friday. "We need big guys to step up and give us some size," Sloan said.

Briefly

Mehmet Okur reported no setbacks with his mildly sprained left knee and ankle after going through practice Saturday. "I felt good and [Sunday] nothing really, soreness or anything," Okur said. "I'm ready to go." ... Fesenko followed his Willy Wonka costume from last year by dressing as Beetlejuice for the Jazz players' Halloween party.

rsiler@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">rsiler@sltrib.com

Jazz vs. Rockets

at EnergySolutions Arena

Time » 7 p.m.

TV/Radio » FSN Utah, 1320 AM, 98.7 FM

Records » Jazz 1-1, Rockets 2-1

Last meeting » Jazz won 99-86 on March 24

Line » Jazz by 81/2

About the Jazz » After giving up 60 points in the first half Friday against the Clippers, the Jazz will be looking to show marked improvement. They will have every opportunity to hold down a Rockets team whose top scorer (minus Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady) entering the season was Luis Scola with a career 11.5 ppg average. ... Deron Williams is averaging 24.5 ppg and 11.0 apg to start the season and could have another big game against Rockets guards Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry.

About the Rockets » Trevor Ariza is coming off a career-best 33-point game in Saturday's victory against Portland, including five three-pointers. Ariza is averaging 23.3 ppg after leaving the Lakers and signing a five-year, $34 million contract with Houston as a free agent. ... The Rockets are giving up 103.3 points on 47.9 percent shooting defensively. ... Brooks is averaging 21.7 points and 8.3 assists.

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