Yao flew back early from Denver for a doctor’s appointment in Houston that was moved up one day early, as Jonathan Feigen of the Chronicle points out. At least he’s getting used to the NBA travel regimen again. After his first practice on Thursday since his injury on December 23rd, he checked out well with the doctor.
Rockets trainer Keith Jones said, “He did fine. No problems at all. He said he felt fine. Actually, he said he was sore everywhere except the knee. That’s what happens when you go back to work.”
Even though the doctors haven’t cleared him to play or set a date for his return, it has to be a good sign. And when he is allowed to play, Jeff Van Gundy is going to play him right away. There’s no question about it, as JVG mentions in this piece.
Meanwhile, Yao’s teammates took care of business in Denver and got payback for that crushing defeat against the Nuggets in Houston on January 20th.
Although the Nuggets shot 47.4% from the field vs. Houston’s 41.8%, the Rockets built an 18-point second half lead.
The key difference was that the Rockets got off 20 shots more than the Nuggets, thanks to 18 offensive rebounds for the Rockets (8 grabbed by Dikembe Mutombo) compared to only 5 offensive boards total for the Nuggets. Mutombo was a monster on the boards altogether, grabbing 22, the highest ever for a 40-year old in the NBA.
The other key was Houston hitting an incredible 14-of-30 three-pointers. Shane Battier was amazing, hitting 5-of-6 treys for 15 points total. Luther Head made 5-of-9 and scored 17 points.
Tracy McGrady led the team with 28 points on 11-of-30 shooting, with most of his damage coming in the first half. He also had 7 assists, and surprisingly Juwan Howard tied him with team-high honors with 7 dimes himself. Howard also made 9-of-19 shots for 18 points.
Now the tough part is that the Rockets have to come back to Houston and play San Antonio on Saturday night. The Rockets have lost 3 of 4 games in Houston on the second night of a back-to-back, and San Antonio is starting to roll, having won 7 straight games. They are also 4 games ahead of the Rockets for home-court advantage in the playoffs with both teams having 24 games left to play, so this will be a big game toward determining who gets home court.