Rockets try to tie series without Yao

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HOUSTON (AP) " The Houston Rockets are down 2-1 in their Western Conference semifinal against the Los Angeles Lakers and they'll be down their best player for the rest of the series.

Yao Ming is out for the remainder of the playoffs with a broken left foot, the Rockets announced late Saturday.

Yao limped off the court late in the Lakers' 108-94 victory on Friday night and underwent treatment Saturday. The Rockets originally said he would be re-evaluated by team doctor Tom Clanton before Sunday's game.

But Clanton said later that further examination of Yao's injury revealed a hairline fracture in his foot that will sideline him for 8-12 weeks. Clanton said Yao will have to wear a protective boot, but that the injury will not require surgery.

The Rockets went 3-2 without Yao during the regular season and 19-8 without him in 2007-08. A total of 12 players missed 179 games for Houston this season, and the Rockets still managed to go 53-29.

"We've won without people all year long," coach Rick Adelman said. "It's just one more case. You can't dwell on who's not here. You have to dwell on who is here. These guys truly believe, if we go out and play the way we're capable of playing, we can win a game."

The Rockets at least know that they'll have Ron Artest, who was ejected for a flagrant foul penalty two on Pau Gasol in the final minute of Game 3, a 108-94 Lakers victory. The NBA downgraded Artest's foul on Saturday and said it did not merit a one-game suspension.

Artest said the reprieve won't change the way he plays in Game 4. He was also tossed from Game 2 for a verbal confrontation with Kobe Bryant that followed Bryant's sharp elbow to Artest's upper chest. The blow went uncalled in the game, but was later ruled a flagrant foul.

"Both teams are just pretty much ready for war," Artest said. "You've always got to be ready to hit, in case somebody hits you. I think both teams realize that."

After the Lakers practiced on Saturday, coach Phil Jackson said he hadn't even considered the possibility of Yao missing Game 4.

The 7-foot-6 Yao has been the focal point of the Rockets' offense since Tracy McGrady had season-ending knee surgery in February, and Houston finished 21-8 without McGrady.

"This is a team that's really survived a lot of adversity, and that's what you have to admire about them," Jackson said. "They've had difficult challenges all year and they've always come back. We've got to be totally ready for another good fight."

Point guard Derek Fisher will return for the Lakers after serving a one-game suspension for a hard foul on Luis Scola in Game 2. Jordan Farmar played well in Fisher's place on Friday night, scoring 12 points with seven assists in 33 minutes.

Bryant said Fisher's absence benefited Farmar's confidence, thus improving the Lakers' backcourt depth.

"That game did a lot for Jordan, getting him back on track," Bryant said. "It adds a dimension to our team. It gives us more speed."

The Lakers took control in Game 3 with their defense, forcing 17 turnovers and holding Houston to 24 percent shooting in the third quarter, when they built a double-digit lead. And that was with Yao playing more than 39 minutes.

Adelman stressed the importance of protecting and moving the ball at practice on Saturday.

"It's a matter of we have to raise our level of play, no matter who is playing," Adelman said. "We have to play to our strengths, everybody has to play to their strengths and understand what they have to do to help us win. You do it collectively. There's strength in numbers, and that's what we have to understand."

The Lakers say the Rockets can become a more versatile offense with Yao out.

Artest, not Yao, is Houston's leading scorer in the playoffs, and Aaron Brooks and Scola are both averaging more than 14 points per game. The absence of Yao would also mean more minutes for forward Carl Landry, who's averaging seven points in the playoffs.

"We would anticipate Artest getting a lot more touches and looks, Brooks being more aggressive and Landry and Scola being more in the post and doing damage there," Gasol said. "They're a quality team, no matter what. We've got to go out there with the same mentality and mind-set that we had (in Game 3)."

The Lakers have won 14 of their last 15 playoff series in which they've built a 2-1 lead, and Bryant vowed they'll leave nothing to chance in Game 4.

"We talk about the significance of every game," said Bryant, averaging 30.3 points in the playoffs. "We have a great opportunity. I'm excited about it, excited about coming out and taking care of business. I look forward to games like this."


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