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Sunday, March 4, 2007
Updated: March 5, 9:41 PM ET
Yao returns from broken leg against Cavs

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CLEVELAND -- Yao Ming returned to action for the Houston Rockets on Monday night after missing 32 games while recovering from a broken bone under his right knee.

Yao Ming
Yao

The 7-foot-6 center was in the starting lineup and before Houston's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers said that he was returning with no limitations.

Yao showed some rust, finishing with 16 points on 5-of-15 shooting over 27 minutes in the Cavaliers' 91-85 win. He added 11 rebounds and two blocks but gave Houston fans a big scare when he tripped over a Cavs player and tumbled to the ground with less than a minute left in the game. Yao limped off the court, at one point reaching for the brace on his right knee, but he declined help on the bench. He returned to the game after a timeout.

Yao airballed a left hook on the Rockets' first possession, but immediately got in the Cavaliers' way on the other end, blocking a shot.

Yao sat at his locker after pregame shootaround, wearing a black brace on his right knee. He doesn't think it will slow him down. He also wasn't concerned that the Cavaliers might try to test his leg.

"The doctor already tested my leg Saturday night before we played against the Spurs," Yao said. "I said, 'OK, thank you. How about [playing] tonight?' He said, 'No.'"

Yao fractured his right tibia plateau when he jumped to block a shot and his knee got caught under Tim Thomas' body in a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Dec. 23

The injury interrupted Yao's best season in four years in the NBA. He was averaging 26 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. He scored more than 30 points in four of the five games before his injury.

The Rockets managed to go 20-12 without Yao but they have struggled of late, losing three of their last four, including an embarrassing 97-74 loss to San Antonio on Saturday night.

Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said he wouldn't know how many minutes Yao could handle until he saw him playing. Van Gundy said he planned to run the offense through Tracy McGrady against Cleveland as Yao works his way back.

The Rockets returned Monday to the starting lineup they used to start the season, reinserting not only Yao but forward Chuck Hayes. Houston was 12-2 with them in the starting lineup, entering Monday night's game.

Yao scored 24 points and had four blocked shots against the Cavaliers in an 81-63 victory in December.

"It's challenging definitely with him coming back," Cavaliers forward LeBron James said. "He's definitely an interior force. Offensively, he's going to help them. Defensively, he's going to help them too just being a big load inside that paint."

Yao said he prepared for his return by working on a stationary bike and treadmill over the last couple weeks.

It was Yao's third time rehabilitating from an injury in a year. In December 2006, he underwent surgery for a toe infection and missed 21 games. Last April, he broke his left foot and missed the final four games of the season.