Rockets center named West's Player of the Week for fifth time in career

Monday April 2, 2007 4:44 PM

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Rockets center named West's Player of the Week for fifth time in career

Damien Pierce Staff Writer

HOUSTON -- Since returning from a broken bone below his right knee, Yao Ming has been trying to regain the form that made him an early MVP candidate in December.

On Monday, the big fella received confirmation that he's well on his way.

The Rockets center was named the Western Conference's Player of the Week for the second time this season and fifth time in his career after putting together his most dominating stretch since returning from a fractured right tibia.

Yao guided the Rockets to a 3-1 record over the week, averaging 30 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.25 blocks.

The Rockets center is showing that he has rediscovered his timing and conditioning after missing 2 1/2 months due to injury.

"The key was conditioning," Rockets forward Juwan Howard said. "He just had to get back into playing the shape. We knew that he never lost his game. He's not only a 7-foot-5 statue, but he's also a 7-foot-5 skilled and fundamentally-sound basketball player. We can depend on him for scoring in the post or mid-post area."

The center heads into Wednesday's game against Golden State having posted three consecutive double-doubles.

He dropped a season-high 39 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in an overtime win over the Los Angeles Lakers Friday night. He swished 17 free throws in that game after attempting a career-high 21 shots from the stripe. The center then followed that performance Sunday with a 35-point, 16-rebound effort against the Utah Jazz.

The Rockets have improved improved to 11-5 since Yao returned from his injury and are just 1 1/2 games behind the Utah Jazz for home court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

Head optimistic about return: Rockets guard Luther Head is expecting to return to the lineup Wednesday against Golden State after being held out of the past two games with a bruised right shoulder.

"I should be back on Wednesday," Head said after Sunday's setback to the Utah Jazz.

Head, the Rockets' leading three-point shooter, hurt his shoulder against Milwaukee on March 26. He played against the Clippers on March 28, but had trouble finishing his shooting motion because of the injury. The Rockets gave him time off to rest.

Head's injury has yielded more playing time for John Lucas III over the past two games.

Not Looking Ahead: The Rockets appear destined to face the Utah Jazz in the opening round of the playoffs, but Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy doesn't plan on discussing a potential series against Utah until both teams are locked into their playoffs spots.

"I'm not going to really speak about a series," Van Gundy said. "Until there is a certainty, there's no sense in hypothesizing. To think ahead right now would serve no positive purpose."

The Rockets are a win or a Lakers loss away from securing at least the fifth spot in the West, while the Jazz are four games behind San Antonio for the No. 3 seed with nine games remaining on their schedule.