It will be the same two teams owning the same playoff seeds playing on the same Toyota Center court as last year in Houston for Game 1 when the Jazz face the Rockets tonight.

That being said, there is one huge difference.

One 7-foot-6, 310-pound difference in the middle of the Rockets' lineup.

Houston not having All-Star center Yao Ming available changes the complexion of the entire series.

"When Yao is in there, they are kind of an inside-outside team," said Jazz forward Matt Harpring. "Without him, they rely on (Tracy) McGrady more and are more of an outside, drive-and-dish, shoot-the-3 type team. It's a big difference."

Perhaps no one on the Jazz roster will see that difference more than starting center Mehmet Okur, who had the unenviable task of guarding Yao the majority of the time in all seven games last season. Okur earned accolades for his defensive efforts in that series. But, thanks to the energy he had to exert guarding Yao, his offensive effectiveness was reduced.

"Last year I spent all my energy playing defense on big guy, Yao," Okur said. "You have to put your body on him all 48 minutes. He is so big, it's hard to play against him."

Okur still averaged 11 points per game against the Rockets, but that was 6.6 points fewer than his regular season average. In Utah's second playoff series, against the Golden State Warriors, Okur's average was back up to 17.4 points per game.

With Yao out after having surgery on his left foot, Okur will draw the starting defensive assignment against another veteran 7-footer, but Dikembe Mutombo is not much of an offensive threat. Mutombo, in fact, is averaging only three points per game. Then again, the Rockets tend to go small at times now, meaning Okur could end up marking guys like Luis Scola and Chuck Hayes.

"I am going to try to play hard defense on whoever I guard out there," Okur said. "I will bring my A-game defensively."

Meanwhile, Okur became more of a scoring threat the final few weeks of the season and expects to be a bigger part of the offense against the Rockets in this series than he was a year ago in the opening round.

"I should have more energy on offense this time because I am not guarding Yao," Okur said. "I am healthy and I have confidence and my teammates now really believe in me and create open shots for me at the offensive end. I really feel good about my offense right now."

Said Jazz point guard Deron Williams, "We feel like we'll have an advantage inside with (Carlos) Boozer and Memo because a lot of their guys are undersized."

While the Rockets miss Yao, they have found ways to win without him.

"They are a different team on offense without Yao, but still good," Harpring said. "I think they surprised the whole league this year with their ability to keep winning after Yao got hurt, but it's because their defense hasn't changed. They have the same mentality and toughness on defense and rebounding as they had before."

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, of course, is taking no solace in the fact that the Jazz were able to beat the Rockets last season.

"They have a different setup right now," Sloan said. "They've brought in four new guys that have helped with their toughness. They have a different coach, a different philosophy. It's just altogether different."

Sloan is particularly impressed with how hard the Rockets play.

"They are very, very good defensively," Sloan said. "They are quick. They are strong. They are like bulldogs when the ball goes up. Every one of them goes after it. You can see why they won a lot of games. They have a tenacious attitude that gives them a lot of confidence in themselves."

Indeed, the Rockets have confidence in themselves even without their star center.

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