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Question of the Day
HOUSTON (AP) - Yao Ming was last seen in an NBA game that counted back in May 2009, limping off the floor in the playoffs and unaware at the time that the injury would force him to miss the following season.
Houston has a new look now, younger and deeper than the squad that pushed the Los Angeles Lakers to seven games in the second round of that postseason. But with all the changes, the same nagging question still hovers over everything the Rockets do and what they may be able to accomplish this season:
Can Yao stay healthy?
The 7-foot-6 center has missed chunks of last five seasons with injuries, all of them occurring in his legs or the now surgically reconstructed left foot. He’s shown flashes of his old self this preseason, scoring 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting in one game and grabbing seven rebounds with three blocks in another.
But no matter how good he seems to look or how quickly he works himself into condition, the Rockets will play it safe as the regular season begins, restricting the seven-time All-Star to no more than 24 minutes per game.
The plan is to preserve Yao for a postseason run _ if the Rockets can get there with him playing such a limited role.
“We have to get a group ready for the regular season, and if Yao is there, it just adds so much to us,” coach Rick Adelman said. “But I’m just going to have to take the stance that I want to bring him along as he feels comfortable, and how it fits into our team. It’s got to be something that’s positive for him.
“That’s a long answer to say, I don’t know how it’s going to work out.”
The day before training camp began, Yao downplayed how long he would need to regain his form.
“How hard can 24 minutes be?” he cracked.
With or without Yao, the Rockets shape up as one of the league’s most versatile teams.
Point guard Aaron Brooks was named the league’s most improved player after averaging 19.6 points and 5.3 assists a year ago. Argentine power forward Luis Scola is also back following a star-making performance at the recent world championships, where he led the tournament in scoring (27.1 points per game).
The Rockets re-signed reserve point guard Kyle Lowry, and he and Brooks formed a small, speedy backcourt at times last season. Houston also acquired 7-foot Brad Miller to back up Yao, and if Adelman wants a bigger lineup, he can choose from durable forward Chuck Hayes, 6-10 Jordan Hill, 6-11 Jared Jeffries and first-round draft pick Patrick Patterson.
Sharp-shooting Kevin Martin should get open looks on the perimeter if Yao attracts attention down low, and the Rockets were thrilled to nab guard Courtney Lee in a four-team trade that sent Trevor Ariza to New Orleans.
Shane Battier again brings experience and leadership to the starting five, and athletic Chase Budinger is another multi-skilled player in reserve.
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