Just days ago, the Houston Rockets discussed the idea of increasing Yao Ming's minutes. That plan has hit a definite snag.
The Rockets will not have Yao available Friday night when they visit an Indiana Pacers team coming off a historic shooting performance.
The 7-foot-6 Yao played the opening 6:14 of Wednesday's 98-91 loss to Washington before sustaining a mild left ankle sprain that will sideline him at least a week. He grabbed one rebound and was held without a point for the first time since Nov. 5, 2002 - his fourth NBA game.
Yao was playing in his fifth game after sitting out the entire 2009-10 season while recovering from surgery to repair his broken left foot. Houston (1-6) has been putting strict limits on Yao's minutes in an attempt to keep the injury-plagued star healthy for a full season, but there had been talk of easing up on those restrictions.
Unable to lean on Yao - the team's leading scorer in each of his last three seasons - Kevin Martin and Luis Scola are shouldering more of the offense for the Rockets, losers of four straight to Indiana (3-3).
Martin, averaging a team-high 24.1 points, scored a season-best 31 on Wednesday, while Scola, averaging 22.7, added 24. The duo combined to score the Rockets' first seven points in the fourth quarter, putting them up 85-84 with 5 minutes left, but the Wizards scored the game's next 10 to pull away.
Defensive lapses in the fourth quarter have plagued Houston, which is off to its worst start since the 1982-83 team opened 1-12. The Rockets, who are allowing an average of 29.4 points in the final period - worst in the league - have had fourth-quarter leads in five of their six losses.
"I was disappointed again," coach Rick Adelman said. "Every game we've had this year - except for the one we won - right down to the fourth quarter, we have a chance to win, and we don't get it done."
While the Rockets have had several fourth-quarter collapses, it was the third quarter that defined the Pacers' 144-113 win over Denver on Tuesday.
Indiana made its first 20 shots in a 54-point third period, the highest-scoring quarter in team history and fourth-highest in NBA history. The Pacers' lone shooting blemish came when Josh McRoberts was off on a 26-footer with 1.9 seconds left.
"That's a quarter of basketball that will be remembered for a long time," coach Jim O'Brien said.
O'Brien had criticized Mike Dunleavy for missing open shots - the ninth-year guard missed 14 of 19 in his previous two games - but he responded Tuesday by scoring 24 of his 31 points in the third. Dunleavy finished 9 of 13 from the floor and went 6 of 10 from 3-point range.
"You just string a few in a row together, you get going, and it just goes from there," said Dunleavy, who is averaging 19.0 points in Indiana's wins and 8.3 in the losses.