Rockets-Pacers Preview

Just days ago, the Houston Rockets discussed the idea of

increasing Yao Ming’s minutes. That plan has hit a definite

snag.

The Rockets will not have Yao available Friday night when they

visit an Indiana Pacers team coming off a historic shooting

performance.

The 7-foot-6 Yao played the opening 6:14 of Wednesday’s 98-91

loss to Washington before sustaining a mild left ankle sprain that

will sideline him at least a week. He grabbed one rebound and was

held without a point for the first time since Nov. 5, 2002 – his

fourth NBA game.

Yao was playing in his fifth game after sitting out the entire

2009-10 season while recovering from surgery to repair his broken

left foot. Houston (1-6) has been putting strict limits on Yao’s

minutes in an attempt to keep the injury-plagued star healthy for a

full season, but there had been talk of easing up on those

restrictions.

Unable to lean on Yao – the team’s leading scorer in each of his

last three seasons – Kevin Martin and Luis Scola are shouldering

more of the offense for the Rockets, losers of four straight to

Indiana (3-3).

Martin, averaging a team-high 24.1 points, scored a season-best

31 on Wednesday, while Scola, averaging 22.7, added 24. The duo

combined to score the Rockets’ first seven points in the fourth

quarter, putting them up 85-84 with 5 minutes left, but the Wizards

scored the game’s next 10 to pull away.

Defensive lapses in the fourth quarter have plagued Houston,

which is off to its worst start since the 1982-83 team opened 1-12.

The Rockets, who are allowing an average of 29.4 points in the

final period – worst in the league – have had fourth-quarter leads

in five of their six losses.

“I was disappointed again,” coach Rick Adelman said. “Every game

we’ve had this year – except for the one we won – right down to the

fourth quarter, we have a chance to win, and we don’t get it

done.”

While the Rockets have had several fourth-quarter collapses, it

was the third quarter that defined the Pacers’ 144-113 win over

Denver on Tuesday.

Indiana made its first 20 shots in a 54-point third period, the

highest-scoring quarter in team history and fourth-highest in NBA

history. The Pacers’ lone shooting blemish came when Josh McRoberts

was off on a 26-footer with 1.9 seconds left.

“That’s a quarter of basketball that will be remembered for a

long time,” coach Jim O’Brien said.

O’Brien had criticized Mike Dunleavy for missing open shots –

the ninth-year guard missed 14 of 19 in his previous two games –

but he responded Tuesday by scoring 24 of his 31 points in the

third. Dunleavy finished 9 of 13 from the floor and went 6 of 10

from 3-point range.

“You just string a few in a row together, you get going, and it

just goes from there,” said Dunleavy, who is averaging 19.0 points

in Indiana’s wins and 8.3 in the losses.