Daily Confidential

Yao Ming was being talked up as an MVP candidate. Now he might not even make the All-Star game.

The emerging superstar could be out through the break due to his most recent injury and that leaves the Houston Rockets without both of their stars - a situation with which they're all too familiar - when they visit the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday.

``You're talking about a guy who's on an MVP pace, a guy that's been carrying this team for the last two seasons. That hurts,'' Houston guard Rafer Alston said after Yao fractured the bone under his right knee in Saturday's 98-93 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Yao was averaging 26.8 points and 9.7 rebounds before getting hurt in the first quarter. He's expected to miss at least six weeks, putting a return by the Feb. 18 All-Star game in jeopardy.

Yao is facing his third rehabilitation stint in a year, having undergone surgery last December for a toe infection before breaking his foot in April.

``If there's ever been an athlete who doesn't deserve the bad breaks he's gotten the last two years, it's him,'' Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said. ``He works hard, he's in great shape, so I feel badly for him.''

The Rockets (16-11) already had been without Tracy McGrady, who has missed the past seven games due to back spasms. McGrady told the Houston Chronicle he's not sure if he would go on the team's road trip through Indiana and New Jersey, where the Rockets will play on Wednesday.

Yao and McGrady missed a combined 60 games due to injury last season and the team finished 34-48, failing to make the playoffs for the first time in three years since acquiring McGrady. That record included a 1-8 mark when both Yao and McGrady didn't play.

``We have to be tougher, we have to be more mentally sharp and we have to not expect less from ourselves when T-Mac and Yao are out,'' said Houston's Shane Battier, who scored a season-high 28 points Saturday.

The Rockets have gone 2-5 since McGrady got hurt after opening the season 14-6.

Even with a healthy roster, the Pacers (15-11) struggled to score in their most recent game. They were held to their lowest point total of the season in a 78-71 home loss to Minnesota on Monday.

After leading by 10 at halftime, Indiana was limited to 21 second-half points - third-fewest in the NBA during the shot-clock era.

``It was like we ran out of gas,'' Pacers forward Danny Granger said. ``We know how to play from behind. We've got to learn how to play from ahead.''

It was Indiana's second straight home loss after winning six straight at Conseco Fieldhouse.

Al Harrington had another mediocre game, scoring 12 points and tying a season high with four turnovers. Over Indiana's last 10 games, Harrington has averaged 17.0 points in six wins and 9.0 in the four losses.

Yao averaged 31.0 points and 11.5 rebounds against the Pacers last season as the teams split the season series.

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