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Pistons take on Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady tonight

The Pistons travel to Houston tonight looking to improve to 8-0, which would match the 1988-89 Pistons for the second best start in team history. What's the best start? I'm not even going there -- let's get No. 8 in the books before we start looking ahead too much.

Ben Wallace may be taller than Ali G, but he's still a bit undersized when it comes to other centers around the league -- and especially when it comes to Yao Ming. But despite a lack of height, Wallace is clearly one of the stronger players in the league, and he's used that to his advantage in past meetings with Yao:

HOUSTON -- It goes back to the World Championships in Indiana in the summer of 2002. One of the few highlights for the sixth-place U.S. men's team was the night Ben Wallace shut down 7-foot-6 Yao Ming of China.

Wallace, who is listed at 6-9 but is closer to 6-7, flummoxed Yao. Using quickness and strength, Wallace kept Yao off balance and away from the basket, enabling the U.S. team to ease past China, 84-65.

Three NBA seasons later, Yao is still trying to solve the Wallace riddle.

"I just try to come out tough and force him off the block," Wallace said. "If I can get him to put the ball on the floor, that's to my advantage."

In six games against Wallace, Yao has averaged 12.6 points (six off his current average) and 10.3 shots and committed 16 turnovers.

That is part of the reason the Pistons are 5-1 against the Rockets since Yao arrived. The teams play again tonight.

"It's hard for me to tell," Wallace said when asked if thought he was in Yao's head a bit. "I just think he finds himself at times trying to out-quick me, and that plays to my advantage. If I can force him off the block and make him think about what he wants to do, I like to think I am one up on him."

Wallace also has used his strong lower base as leverage in keeping Yao off balance.

"I always try to get underneath him," Wallace said. "For any big guy, to have a smaller guy get underneath and get close to their legs, they don't like that."

Another interesting battle will be between Tracy McGrady and Tayshaun Prince. If you remember, Prince's coming out party was in the 2003 playoffs against McGrady. The top-ranked Pistons faced a 3-1 deficit against the No. 8 seed Magic when McGrady made his famous "It feels good to get in the second round" comment. Little did he know that Prince, an unheralded rookie who averaged just 3.3 points in 42 regular season games, would soon see extended action and develop into the defensive stopper he is right now... whether Paul Pierce wants to admit it or not..

Not that the Pistons need any advantage, but the Rockets might be a little tired. They just lost to the Spurs on Thursday, and they'll be playing their sixth game in nine days.

Yao isn't himself against Wallace [Detroit News]
McGrady knows better now [Houston Chronicle]
Pierce takes some offense to lack of recognition [Boston Globe]
Tayshaun Prince's career stats []