With its star center now healthy again, Houston looks to rebound from a lopsided defeat Wednesday when it faces the struggling Clippers.
Yao fractured a bone under his right knee 5:43 into the Rockets’ 98-93 loss to Los Angeles on Dec. 23 at the Toyota Center. The injury sidelined him for 32 games, but the Rockets went 19-13 without him as Tracy McGrady picked up the scoring slack.
Yao, who leads Houston (39-25) with 24.9 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, is back in the lineup and facing double and triple-teams by opponents. Against Phoenix on Monday, he shot just 1-for-9 from the floor and had 10 points in a 103-82 loss. The scoring output was his lowest in five games since returning, and the defeat was the Rockets’ most lopsided of the season with Yao in the lineup.
“They made it very hard on Yao,” said Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy, whose club had its modest three-game winning streak snapped.
McGrady has struggled in the last two games, shooting 14-for-45 (31.1 percent) while scoring 19 points in each contest, a drop from his 24.5 season average.
However, the All-Star swingman has averaged 27.7 points in his last three meetings with the Clippers.
Despite his poor shooting recently, McGrady feels he is getting better shot selection with Yao back.
“I’m finding more room and guys on the perimeter are just waiting for a pass,” McGrady said to the team’s official Web site. “They can spin the ball a couple of times and they’re still wide open.”
Houston has split its two previous meetings with Los Angeles this season, with the road team winning each time. Yao scored 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the Rockets’ 108-103 win on Dec. 17 at Staples Center.
The Clippers (29-34) are trying to avoid a five-game losing streak, which would be their longest since a season-high six-game skid from Dec. 11-22.
They haven’t won since an 87-64 victory over Indiana on March 3, and all their losses during the slide have been by nine points or more. Los Angeles lost 93-84 to San Antonio on Tuesday, when it was unable to rally from a 10-point halftime deficit.
“I thought we missed a lot of good shots,” said Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy, whose team has failed to reach 100 points in any of the last seven games. “We had a lot of great shots that we just didn’t finish. We had a lot of in-and-outs around the basket.
“What gives us hope is the fact that if we play like we did tonight we will win games.”
The Clippers are clinging to a one-half game lead on Golden State for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.