Now that the Rockets got their win, they could soon get something they desired for even longer — more Yao Ming.
The Rockets medical staff is exploring through a series of on-going meetings, changing the limits on Yao’s playing time because of the progress he has made in his comeback, a team representative said on Tuesday.
The discussions could lead to an increase in his playing time from the limit of 24 minutes per game, changes in the way his minutes are distributed throughout the game and clearance to play both games of back-to-backs.
Yao has played and practiced without any complications, but has seemed increasingly frustrated with the limits on his playing time and especially with having to miss games when the Rockets play two games in as many nights.
Though Yao said Tuesday that there have been no changes in the plan, after sitting out Friday’s game in San Antonio, the second time this season he has been out because a game was part of a back-to-back, he seemed to be especially eager to be cleared to play every game.
“The team needs to play consistently,” Yao said. “That means you need a consistent lineup. A guy who is a starting center being on and off, on and off, I think that’s not good for a team. That’s why I think playing back-to-back for me and for teammates is very important.”
The Rockets had planned to revisit the back-to-back limitations in January, but have chosen to at least consider changes far ahead of schedule.
Yao is averaging 12.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in 21 minutes per game, with the Rockets happy with how aggressive he was offensively on Sunday and with the way the team ran their offense around him.
The Rockets begin a three-game road trip Wednesday against the Wizards. The Rockets have been remarkably inconsistent defensively.
Even that could be addressed with changes to Yao’s playing status. When asked about the Rockets’ defense, Yao cited the injuries to Aaron Brooks, Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin and his own time forced to be spent on the bench or inactive list.
“First of all, to consistently (play) defense you need a consistent lineup,” Yao said. “Right now with the multiple injuries and I cannot play back-to-back, at least not until January … and I don’t know who will be starting tomorrow, Ish or Kyle, we need to settle down that first.
“But I think defense is also about attitude. Whoever is playing, we need to go in thinking we can help the team on defense, finding your own man and then helping your teammates.”
Lowry returned to practice on Tuesday, but is questionable to play against the Wizards after twice missing two games because of back spasms. Martin was held out of the practice, but is probable to play with his sprained left ankle.
They are certain that they will have to be more consistent defensively to win on the road for the first time this season.
“We have so many guys in an out of the lineup, I don’t know how we’re going to respond to that,” Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. “We know what we want to do. Every day we go through it, we should be more ready. But it will be a tough trip.
“This team has shown at the start of the season, we can lock in defensively for awhile. Then it seems like we lose our concentration and before you know it, the other team runs off 10 points in a row. If we don’t guard people on this trip, we’re going to get beat. At home, it’s different, but on the road, you have to guard people.
“We just can’t get into a 115-115 game with these teams. We have to get stops.”
With the exception of the loss to the Warriors in which the Rockets gave up 132 points, they have defended well through stretches of games, only to break down in the fourth quarter and to hurt themselves with an inability to reliably lock up the defensive boards and opposing fast breaks.
“We realize when we rebound the basketball and get back in transition, stop gambling and going for the home run on defense, we can be a solid defensive team,” Shane Battier said. “It’s not going to be spectacular. It’s not always going to be pretty. But we can be effective.”
The changing lineup has made that more difficult, especially with so much of the emphasis on the Rockets plans to improve defensively focused on doing a better job in the backcourt to limit penetration and to bring back size in the middle to stop it.
Those positions have changed throughout the season, but at least at center, the Rockets could soon be getting more of what they have wanted for so long.