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NBA: Yao Misses at Least 6 Weeks
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Houston's Yao Ming will miss at least the next six weeks of the National Basketball Association season after fracturing his right knee Saturday in a 98-93 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The 7-foot-5 Chinese center, having the greatest season of his career, ranks eighth among NBA scorers with 26.8 points. He also leads the Rockets with 9.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks a game and is also the team's most accurate shooter.

Yao is unlikely to return before the NBA All-Star Game, meaning he will almost certainly miss the event for the first time in his NBA career. He was voted onto the starting lineup the past four years.

"I couldn't feel worse for an athlete," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said.

"If there's ever been an athlete who doesn't deserve the bad breaks he's gotten the last two years with the injuries, it's him. He works hard and he's in great shape."

Stealing the joy from the Christmas season for Rockets' supporters, the injury came one night after Houston routed San Antonio 97-78, winning on the Spurs' home court for the first time since 1997.

"It's tough to deal with," Rockets guard Rafer Alston said. "You're shocked, disappointed. (Yao) has worked so hard. He was carrying this team."

Yao left the game with 6:17 remaining in the first quarter after appearing to hurt his knee attempting to block a shot by the Clippers' Tim Thomas.

Yao fell awkwardly and instantly grabbed his knee, yelling for aid as he grimaced in pain on the court. He limped off to the locker room with the help of teammates while his worried parents watched from the stands.

While the game continued, Yao was taken to Memorial Hermann Hospital and underwent an MRI exam. What was thought to be only a bone bruise instead turned out to be a major setback for Asia's greatest player.

"Because it's on a weight-bearing surface, we're saying a minimum of six weeks," said Rockets trainer Keith Jones.

Jones said no decision has been made about possible surgery.

"We're going to see how it reacts. We think he'll do well with just rest," he said. "An option is to do something more, surgery. We have to wait and see."

The Rockets, 16-11, were already playing without star guard Tracy McGrady, sidelined with back spasms for the past seven games.

Houston's record without both Yao and McGrady is a woeful 1-8 since they became teammates.

Yao missed 25 games last season with a toe injury and later a broken foot while McGrady missed 35 games last season with back trouble.

"Last year we responded OK," Van Gundy said. "We have a chance to learn from last year. A lot of things happen to us, but it's how you deal with what happens to you that shows who you are."

Rockets guard Luther Head said the team can handle the setback better than when it lost Yao last season.

"I think we're better off. We've got a slight cushion. We've got more wins than losses," Head said. "It was unfortunate (to lose Yao) but it's no excuse why we lost."

Thomas scored 21 points and Cuttino Mobley added 18 to lead the Clippers, who took full advantage of Yao's absence to snap a six-game losing streak and improve the NBA's worst road record to 2-9.

"Obviously, we needed a win and we got a major break when Yao went down," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "The difference in the game after Yao went out is they couldn't post us low and pass out to the perimeter."

Shane Battier scored a season-high 28 points and Head added 22 for the Rockets, who hit only 30-of-75 shots.

"We all have to do a little bit more," Battier said. "We have to be tougher, we have to be more mentally sharp and we have to not expect less of ourselves when (McGrady) and Yao are out."

Yao scored 32 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and passed off five assists last week when the Rockets beat the Clippers at Los Angeles.

Democratic Republic of Congo center Dikembe Mutombo replaced Yao and played 25 minutes, but only eight minutes in the second half as Van Gundy struggled to find enough scoring threats.

"I'm going to have to really think about the rotation," Van Gundy said. "When we started the second half with Chuck (Hayes) and (Mutombo) out there together, that's just not enough offense."

(China Daily December 25, 2006)

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