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Yao injured; Clippers top Rockets

Dec 24, 2006 - 6:09 AM HOUSTON (Ticker) -- After one of their most impressive wins of the season, the Houston Rockets may have lost more than just a game.

With Yao Ming injured early in the game, Tim Thomas had 21 points and Chris Kaman collected 15 and 11 rebounds as the Los Angeles Clippers took advantage of the void in the middle with a 98-93 victory over the Rockets.

Cuttino Mobley scored 18 points for the Clippers, who shot 49 percent (39-of-70) from the field and 7-of-13 from the arc to snap a six-game losing streak.

Rockets trainer Keith Jones announced after the game that Yao had suffered a small fracture on the front of his right knee and will be out a minimum of six weeks. Yao was taken to Memorial Hermann Hospital during the game and underwent an MRI.

"It's a non-displaced fracture," said Jones, adding that he didn't believe surgery would be necessary at this point. "We think he'll do well with rest."

Entering Saturday's contest, Yao had been one of the most dominant players in the NBA. He is leading Houston in scoring (28.7) and rebounding (9.7). But after falling awkwardly in an attempt to block Thomas' shot, the 7-5 center was helped off the court with 6:17 remaining in the opening period with what was originally thought to be a bruised knee.

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

It was a disappointing loss for the Rockets, who routed San Antonio, 97-78, just one night earlier for their first road win against the Spurs since 1997.

Shane Battier scored a season-high 28 points for Houston, which shot just 40 percent (30-of-75).

"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."

The Rockets have been down this road before. Yao missed 25 games last season with first a toe injury, then a broken foot. McGrady missed 35 games last campaign with back problems.

"Last year we responded OK," Houston coach Jeff 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."

"I think we're better off (than last year)," Houston guard Luther Head said. "We've got a slight cushion, we've got more wins than losses."

The Rockets will have to revamp their offense, which has been built around an inside-out game through Yao.

Van Gundy said he felt badly for Yao, but was more upset by how poorly his team played defensively in the second half, giving up 59 points.

"I couldn't feel worse for an athlete," 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.

"I do not feel sorry for us. I was very disappointed in the group effort in the second half. We played absolutely no defense. No reason. No excuses. We didn't have the requisite fight to win in the NBA. We have enough to win with and we didn't play that way."

Dikembe Mutombo replaced Yao and played 25 minutes, but only eight in the second half.

"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."

Alston said the Rockets will have to find different ways to score.

"The offense changes," he said. "We'll have to feed off our defense. You have to get more transition baskets. You can't try to go out there and score 30 points." The Clippers had lost to Houston last Sunday at home.

"Obviously, we needed a win and we got a major break when Yao went down," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "In the second half, we played better defense. Tim came through for us and helped us space the court and hit some big threes. Clearly, the difference in the game after Yao went out is they couldn't post us low and pass out to the perimeter."

"We played catch and shoot and I was able to hit my shots," Mobley said. "It's a positive thing when I get the ball. They came back on us in the fourth quarter, but we were able to hold them off."

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