They are the NBA's new extraterrestrial duo, assembled by a blockbuster trade that shook the league's landscape, but Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming have become easily humanized as the Houston Rockets try to build chemistry.
It didn't happen quickly with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen or Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, either. When Bryant first broke into the league, O'Neal dubbed him "Showboat," and he wasn't being nice. So the McMing Dynasty begins at a prosaic 0-2 after the Toronto Raptors' 95-88 victory over the Rockets on Wednesday night before a sellout crowd of 19,800 in Air Canada Centre.
McGrady, the two-time scoring champion and one-time Raptor, led all scorers with 21 points while the 7-foot-6 Yao added 17, but it wasn't enough to spoil the coaching debut of the Raptors' Sam Mitchell. Chris Bosh led Toronto with 20 points, Jalen Rose added 17 and Vince Carter had 16 points and six assists.
"Just because you have two up-and-coming superstars in the league doesn't mean you're going to win every game, it's going to be tough," said McGrady, who was drafted by the Raptors seven years ago. "There's a lot of new faces on this ballclub, so we're still trying to feel each other out. Some of those guys over there (the Raptors) have been playing together for a year or two, so they know each other's tendencies and they know each other's games. Me and Yao are still trying to feel each other out, so it's going to take a little time."
Just when everyone believed Houston's collection of stars would use the regular season as an audition before the playoffs, the Rockets got slapped silly on back-to-back nights. Tuesday's 87-79 road loss to the defending champion Detroit Pistons was expected, considering the Pistons were riding the emotional high of a ring ceremony, and McGrady and Yao were underwhelming.
McGrady finished with 18 points on 6-of-18 shooting while Yao shot 2 of 9 and had seven points in 32 minutes against Detroit.
"There's a lot of standing around," said McGrady, who was booed every time he touched the ball. "I'm waiting for Yao to do his thing in the post, he's waiting for me to attack, so it's a lot of standing around. We have to learn to trust each other a lot more on the basketball court."
Said Yao: "I need to get better for my team. We're practicing every day to get better and we have a lot of communication so people can get closer and get adjusted."
McGrady and Yao will learn to work better together.
They are too talented not to be successful. But the Detroit and Toronto games exposed the vulnerability on defense.
It didn't take long as the Raptors raced to an 18-6 first-quarter lead, as Toronto had open looks at the basket.
The lowlight came with 46.9 seconds left, when Raptors center Loren Woods scored on a dunk off a pass from Carter that put Toronto up, 90-83. There wasn't anyone within five feet of Woods.
Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy was livid after the game.
"We're not guarding, not rebounding, missing free throws, not taking care of the ball," he said. "Other than that, it's pretty simple."
Again, it's a matter of building trust.
"We could be a very good defensive team right now if we talked more," said veteran guard Jim Jackson. "There has to be a time (we) say, 'Hey, this is what we have to do to be a good defensive team.' "