The Houston Rockets got two former All-Stars back from injury over the weekend, but that didn’t stop them from blowing a late lead in their last game. They hope the return of Yao Ming goes a little more smoothly.
Yao could come back from a two-game absence and play alongside teammates Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest for the first time in nearly a month as the Rockets host the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night.
McGrady has missed 16 games this season with knee problems and Artest has missed 13 with a nagging ankle injury. Both returned from extended absences Sunday to help Houston (28-18) beat Detroit 108-105.
The Rockets, though, are still struggling to re-adjust to having their stars back in the lineup, as evidenced by the lack of ball movement late in their 104-98 loss to New York on Monday night.
McGrady went 7-for-20 from the field and Artest was 4-for-19. They combined to miss all nine of their shots - including eight 3-point attempts - in the final four minutes. Houston was outscored 12-4 in that stretch.
“We didn’t play team ball,” point guard Rafer Alston told the Rockets’ official Web site. “We were very selfish tonight. They were able to capitalize on our selfishness. We have to decide whether we’re going to play one-on-one or we’re going to pass the ball to each other and play team ball.
“Not playing with energy on both ends, being lazy, not running up and down the court, not sharing the basketball, not setting solid screens, it’s just selfishness.”
Reserve guard Brent Barry thinks the Rockets will eventually put it all together, but knows it won’t happen immediately.
“We have no quick fixes for getting Ron and Tracy back into the game, and back into the way we need to play,” he said. “It’s going to take some time.”
The Rockets hope it’s a little easier with Yao back in the middle. Yao missed his second consecutive game Monday with a sore right knee, but hopes to play against the 76ers.
“Compared to yesterday I feel much better,” the 7-foot-6 All-Star said Monday.
Houston hasn’t had its three leading scorers play in the same game since a Jan. 2 loss to Toronto.
Philadelphia (21-22) got its own big man back over the weekend when Elton Brand returned from a 16-game absence due to a dislocated shoulder.
The two-time All-Star has a long way to go to get back to form. He had six points in his first game back before getting held scoreless on 0-for-3 shooting in 18-plus minutes off the bench as Philadelphia lost 101-86 to New Orleans on Monday night.
The Sixers led by seven at halftime before getting outscored 61-39 in the second half.
“We let one slip away but we did not lay down,” Sixers coach Tony DiLeo said. “We fought back. (That’s a) positive when you play a good team like that. Yes, we lost by 10 points. … We did a great job of chipping away but they did a better job of closing it out.”
The Sixers beat the Rockets 104-96 on Jan. 6 to start a seven-game win streak, their only run of more than three games this season.
Andre Iguodala had 28 points and went 12-for-19 from the field in that game. He’s averaging 20.3 points and shooting 56.4 percent (22-for-39) during Philadelphia’s three-game win streak against Houston.