Shaq, Yao Ming go head to head in Houston tonight

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HOUSTON -- While Shaquille O'Neal has been engaged in a war of words with a former coach, one Western Conference center is siding with the Phoenix big man.

Usually looking to slow down the future Hall of Famer, Yao Ming offered O'Neal his support following Houston's last game.

Tonight, Yao will go for his eighth win in his head-to-head battle with O'Neal as the Rockets try to hand the Suns their third consecutive loss in what has already been an eventful road swing.

After the Suns opened the four-game trip Tuesday with a 111-99 loss to Orlando -- a game hyped as a battle between O'Neal and center Dwight Howard -- Magic coach Stan Van Gundy took a jab at O'Neal, who tried to get a charge call on Howard by falling to the court.

O'Neal, averaging 29.8 points and 9.3 rebounds during his last four games, fouled out Wednesday as Phoenix (34-27) lost for the fifth time in six road games.

Yao fouled out for the first time since Dec. 1, 2007, at Sacramento, as Houston (39-23) dropped its last game, 101-94 at Utah on Wednesday.

In the teams' only meeting this season on Nov. 12, Yao had 17 points and 15 rebounds. O'Neal had 18 points and 13 boards to pace Phoenix, but the visiting Rockets won 94-82 on Nov. 12.

O'Neal, though, still holds a 9-7 edge in all-time matchups with Yao.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)