Sore big toe sidelines Yao Ming indefinitely


LOS ANGELES -- All-Star Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets
missed his first game of the season and the third of his NBA career
Sunday night because of a sore right big toe that will sideline him

"It's not a one-game thing," coach Jeff Van Gundy said before
the Rockets met the Los Angeles Lakers in the finale of a six-game
road trip. "It will probably be a multiple-game thing, whatever
that is. We'll know more after he sees the doctor.

"He doesn't miss much. So when he misses, he's hurt."

Yao returned home before Sunday night's game. He has had a
problem with his right big toe for some time, missing two preseason
games because it was bothering him.

The 25-year-old center has played in 266 regular-season games
since joining the Rockets in 2002. Houston returns to action
Wednesday night at home against Toronto.

"We can still win," Van Gundy said. "Obviously, your chances
are better when you have your better players."

Yao, the leading vote-getter after the first set of returns for
this season's All-Star game, had 22 points and seven rebounds in an
89-81 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday that snapped
Houston's five-game winning streak. He is averaging 19.9 points,
9.0 rebounds and 1.36 blocked shots.

The Rockets are also without injured guards Rafer Alston, Jon
Barry, Bob Sura and Derek Anderson.

"If you have Tracy McGrady on your team and play really hard
and smart, you can be in games," Van Gundy said.

The Rockets are 0-8 without McGrady this season. McGrady was
averaging 25.1 points in 14 games before Sunday night.

"We just have to go about business as usual," Rockets guard
David Wesley said. "It's unfortunate. We've got to find a way to
win despite that. It won't be easy."

Van Gundy said Dikembe Mutombo would start in Yao's spot.
Mutombo was averaging 10.9 minutes, 1.7 points and 3.3 rebounds in
20 games.

"I'm ready to go, there's no question about that," the
39-year-old center said. "You don't know when your name is going
to be called."

Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Yao's absence was "a
disappointment for our fans."

When Lakers forward Lamar Odom was told Yao wouldn't be playing,
he replied: "Good. This is sports, right?"

Odom went on to say he'd be happy facing the San Francisco
Giants without Barry Bonds and the Indianapolis Colts without
Peyton Manning.

"They've got a great player, though, a great player on the wing
who can make shots," Odom said, referring to McGrady. "Mutombo's
a warrior and he plays hard."