Artest to miss two games

HOUSTON -- Houston forward Ron Artest will sit out the next two games with a sprained right ankle, leaving the injury-riddled Rockets with barely enough practice players.

Tracy McGrady practiced Thursday and may return ahead of schedule from a knee injury. But Yao Ming skipped the workout because of a cold, leaving the Rockets with only 10 players for the practice.

"We've got to win games and keep our heads above water," said Houston coach Rick Adelman said. "If we're going to have injuries like this, you just have to win as many as you can."

Artest sat out Monday's loss in Memphis, the first game he's missed this season. He had an MRI exam Tuesday that revealed damaged ligaments in the ankle, an old injury that Artest recently re-aggravated. Later that night, Artest played 39 minutes and scored 19 points in a win over the Atlanta Hawks.

But Artest won't travel with the Rockets for their road games against the Golden State Warriors on Friday and the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday. He did not practice with the team on Thursday.

"He has a bad ankle, we know that," Adelman said. "He's going to play that one game [against Atlanta] and have seven or eight days off, so you're hoping it responds to that."

McGrady has missed Houston's last seven games with soreness in his left knee, the lingering effect of offseason surgery. He said last Tuesday that he would be out another three weeks, but Adelman said McGrady went full-speed in practice on Thursday.

McGrady did not speak to reporters after the workout. Adelman said McGrady would not play "extended" minutes Friday because his stamina is down.

"It was good to see him out there," Adelman said. "He went through the whole scrimmage. He got tired, but he didn't limp. It's just conditioning at this point."

Sharp-shooting reserve Brent Barry, who's missed eight games with a torn calf muscle, also practiced Thursday. He was going to join the team on the weekend trip but doubted he would be ready to play by Friday.

Barry, who missed eight games last season with a similar injury to his left calf, thought he might have returned too soon. He strained the calf a few weeks later and sat out another 20 games.

"This is something I definitely don't want to rush back into," Barry said. "Today was the first day I had a chance to run and get bumped around and make cuts and do basketball-type things. Today was a great sign, a great indication that things are progressing."

Adelman is being careful with Shane Battier, who missed the first 15 games this season with inflammation in his left foot. He's averaged 28 minutes in six games since, but Adelman is concerned about Battier playing back-to-back games.

The Rockets managed to move into first place in the Southwest Division, even though they haven't had everyone on the roster healthy at the same time.

Forwards Luis Scola and Carl Landry are the only Rockets who've played in all 22 games, and Scola is the only one who's started all of them. McGrady, Yao and Battier have missed a total of 24 games to injuries already, leaving Adelman to mix and match lineups and rely heavily on bench players.

"I think the best Christmas present for Coach Adelman would be to actually give him his lineup," Barry said. "To this point, we have still not had a full complement of players available for one regular-season game. For the team, it's disappointing; for our fans, it's disappointing.

"We'd obviously like to get everybody in uniform, on the court, and try to see what we've got," he said.