Tuesday’s game against the Nets is the furthest the team will have to travel this season. It is only fitting that the Rockets experienced a long journey so early in the season. Maybe now they can understand Yao’s own personal journey to overcome a career threatening foot injury.
Many people, including me, are surprised that Yao has played this preseason. He may have even surprised himself. Early this year Yao was quoted as saying, “If the foot injury does not heal next season, I might choose to call it quits.”
Yao still has a long road back to become the player he once was, but it appears he has overcome the most difficult part of the injury. His 9 points and 4 rebounds last night helped the Rockets defeat the Nets 91-81.
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Yao may not have filled up the box score, but his play was consistent and efficient throughout. His 18 minutes of playing time were his highest since returning from the injury, and he seemed to hold up well despite more action.
Adelman understood the magnitude of the game for Yao and did a good job of increasing his minutes accordingly. Yet, Adelman did so by inserting Yao into the lineup for small periods of time throughout the first three quarters. This strategy never left Yao on the court for too long.
Yao’s first-half play was solid on both ends of the court. What I noticed was his ability to easily get out to the three-point line to set high screens for Brooks. This was an area I had some concerns about. I thought it would be difficult for him to move around efficiently on offense because of his foot injury, but that wasn’t the case against the Nets.
One of Yao’s longest stints on the court was during the third quarter when he was able to draw two fouls, hit a 20-foot face-up jump shot and steal a pass. His impact was evident on both ends of the court during this six minute time period.
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One area where I would like to see improvement is on the glass. His four rebounds for the night was my only complaint for a player who is still finding his rhythm on the court.
The game was originally scheduled to showcase a match-up between Yao and fellow Chinese player Yi Jianlian, but the Nets traded Jianlian this past off-season. That didn’t stop the Beijing fans from selling out Wukesong Arena in support of Yao. They understand the long journey it has been for him. Both physically and mentally.