NBA Playoffs: Yao upbeat despite injury
By Kristie Rieken
HOUSTON ó Yao Ming has been here before:
Sitting at a microphone, discussing an injury and the premature end to a Houston Rockets season.
But this wasn’t the teary-eyed and downtrodden Yao who appeared at last year’s announcement that his season was over. This Yao was upbeat and optimistic, smiling and even cracking jokes a day after learning he’ll miss Houston’s playoff run with a hairline fracture in his left foot.
“It’s frustrating, but you have to be positive because it is already better than last year,” he said Sunday. “It’s already happened so I need to look forward and see what’s the next step.
His sunny attitude was likely because this injury came in May, three months later than in 2008, and is less severe than that one, which required surgery.
“I think I’ve been in harder situations before, much harder than this one,” he said. “I believe that I can get through this one too.”
The seven-time All-Star has missed chunks of time with injuries in each of the last four seasons, and his left foot has given him the most trouble. He broke it the first time with just four games left in the 2005-06 season.
He missed 32 games the following season with a fracture in his right leg, near his knee, then suffered a stress fracture in his left foot in February 2008, midway through the Rockets’ 22-game winning streak. He missed the playoffs and Houston lost to Utah in the first round.
The 7-foot-6 Yao avoided a major injury during this regular season, playing 77 games, the most since playing 80 in 2004-05. He had 19 points and 14 rebounds, his sixth straight double-double, in 39 minutes of Game 3.
Down 2-1, Houston hosts Los Angeles on Sunday before heading back to California for Game 5 on Tuesday. Yao plans to travel with the Rockets to support the team throughout its playoff run.
“I’m sorry for the team that I cannot play, but I have confidence in them,” he said. “We played as a team, as a group for a long time this year. We understand that only the team can win the game, not a person, and no one is above this team and everyone on this team understands that.”
Yao, 28, hurt his foot in the Lakers’ 108-94 win in Game 3 on Friday night, limping off the floor in the final minute. The team initially said Yao sprained his ankle, then said later Saturday that further showed the fracture.
The Rockets said Yao will need 8-12 weeks to recover.
Houston coach Rick Adelman figured Yao would miss Game 4 after the way he hobbled off the court in Game 3, but was surprised when he learned he would miss the rest of the season.
“It’s just something we’ll have to move on from,” Adelman said. “I feel bad for him again. He can’t seem to get through (a season) and finish it off. Hopefully, it’s going to heal and for the long run, it’s going to be fine.”
Even Lakers coach Phil Jackson felt for the big guy.
“That’s too bad,” Jackson said. “Here’s a guy who’s been in the best shape I’ve ever seen him in. You always thought if you ran Yao for 30 or 32 minutes, he was going to fade in the game. This year, he’s shown that he can play a 40-minute game and still have impact. I know it’s a great disappointment for him.”
The repeated fractures to the same foot have some wondering if this will be a recurring problem Yao will have to deal with for the rest of his career. He said he hasn’t thought about that possibility.
“It’s only been 48 hours so we don’t have time to discuss that yet,” he said.
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