- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 9, 2010

HOUSTON (AP) - The hurting Houston Rockets are trying to find a way to get by early in the season.

They’re off to a 1-5 start, and coach Rick Adelman is still searching for the best way to maximize Yao Ming’s doctor-mandated 24 minutes. Making matters worse, the Rockets are already coping with injuries to point guards Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry.

The main issue is still Yao, whose minutes are limited to keep pressure off his surgically repaired left foot. The seven-time All-Star has had no setbacks so far, and he’s averaging 12.8 and 6.5 rebounds in 21 minutes per game.

But Yao only plays one game in back-to-back sets and has already sat out twice, leaving the rest of the Rockets adjusting to his status from day to day.

“We all have to figure that out,” said Lowry, who’s missed the past two games with back spasms. “It’s nothing that we’re going to jump up and figure it out. It’s going to be a process.”

Yao said Tuesday that the team may allow him to play consecutive games starting in January. For now, he and Adelman have to find the most effective balance of his time on and off the floor.

The Rockets open a three-game road trip in Washington on Wednesday night.

“It’s hard, it’s hard for everybody,” Adelman said. “It’s not only what I have to do, but the guys who are playing. Guys’ roles change, and that’s what makes it hard.”

Yao said he’s eager to increase his minutes for the sake of team chemistry.

“We need a consistent starting lineup,” Yao said. “With the starting center on and off, on and off, I think that’s definitely not good for the team. That’s why I think playing back-to-back games, for me and for the team, is very important.”

Shane Battier, in his fifth season in Houston, said the situation is not much different than past seasons, when Yao and Tracy McGrady missed chunks of games with injuries.

“We don’t really talk about it,” Battier said. “It sort of is what Yao is, so you just roll with it.”

Adding to the adversity, Adelman has been forced to break in rookie point guard Ishmael Smith with Brooks and Lowry hurting. Lowry said Tuesday he feels better, but Brooks is sidelined 4-6 weeks with a sprained left ankle.

Smith will start Wednesday’s game if Lowry can’t play. There’s no substitute for experience, though, and Adelman would feel more comfortable getting Lowry back.

“We want to be sure Kyle is ready,” Adelman said. “We don’t want him to take more steps backward. He practiced some today (Tuesday) and looked OK. We’ll see how he responds.

“You don’t want to rush him back,” Adelman said, “but I want him back.”

Even with the uncertainty surrounding Yao and the point guards, the Rockets have had no problems scoring points through the first six games.

Led by Kevin Martin and power forward Luis Scola, Houston is averaging 112 points, second in the league to the Los Angeles Lakers.

But Adelman preached the need for defensive improvement in the preseason, and the Rockets rank second-worst in points allowed (112.7 points per game). They also rank second-worst in turnovers forced (12.3 per game).

“We’re scoring a lot of points, so there are a lot more possessions in our game, because you’re going up and down a lot,” Adelman said. “This team has shown that we can lock in defensively for a while. And then it seems like we lose our concentration, and the other team runs off 10 points in a row.

“There’s no reason why we can’t defend more consistently than we have been.”

One way to turn up the defense, Adelman said, is to slow down the tempo, and that’s not likely to happen much with Smith running the offense.

The former Wake Forest star played 42 minutes in Sunday’s 120-94 win over Minnesota, getting seven points and six assists in his fourth NBA game.

Battier said Smith may be even quicker than the speedy Brooks, and Smith said he wants to set a fast tempo whenever he’s on the floor.

“The guys are really encouraging me,” he said. “I’m just trying to stay the course, and do whatever Coach Adelman says and just continue to push the ball and get guys involved.”

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