TONIGHT: Rockets at INDIANA Pacers When/where: 6 p.m.; Conseco Fieldhouse, Indianapolis.
TV/radio: FSH; 610 AM, 850 AM (Spanish).
Records: Rockets 27-16, Pacers 15-27.
Key matchup: Shane Battier vs. Danny Granger. In his fourth NBA season, Granger has become one of the league's most consistent and potent scorers, bumping his average up from 19 points to 26.2 a game. He'll give Battier a handful to chase all night long, from the inside out to the perimeter.
Rockets update: The Rockets used their 4-1 record on the just-completed homestand to pack a bundle of confidence in their luggage for a three-game trip through the Eastern Conference. They've won six of their last seven. Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest will not play tonight but could return to action in the next stops at Detroit and New York.
Pacers update: The Pacers have lost two in a row and are struggling to get out of last place in the Central Division. But they have been a tough out all season long, beating both the Celtics and Lakers at home. In their past 17 games, the Pacers have played 11 games that had both teams separated by no more than three points at the end of regulation, and they have an NBA-high 14 games decided by three points or fewer.
More fun for All-Star Yao
Starting for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game is getting to be old hat for Yao Ming. On Thursday, he was announced as a starter for the seventh time. He did not play in 2007 because of a broken leg.
"It's a lot of fun there," Yao said. "Last year I had a lot of fun, and obviously, that was the best one in the last couple of years.
"I have to say that game is really too fast for me, the All-Star Game.
"I feel like I'm doing my running test out there. But you play with All-Star teammates, and that's a good experience."
Though Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest are not quite ready to jump back into the lineup, their teammates were happy to welcome them back to practice.
"It was good to see them back on the floor," said guard Aaron Brooks. "They went hard. They looked pretty good coming back.
"You could see a little bit of rustiness, but they've been out for a while. It's just good to see them back.
"I think they're veteran guys. They've seen how we've been playing and how we're running the offense. I think they're going to fit in perfectly. They're our two main guys, and Ron and Tracy give us other options at the end of the game."
Yao Ming also gave a thumbs up.
"They looked in good shape," he said. "They played some in the scrimmage, and it looked really hard."
Along for the ride
While he wasn't expecting to be named to the starting lineup, Shane Battier said he is happy to ride Yao Ming's coattails in getting online All-Star votes from China.
At one point in the voting, Battier was as high as seventh among Western Conference forwards, even though he has missed 22 games due to injury.
"Of course, we know that Yao is big everywhere, and he's just huge in China, and part of being a Rocket is being able to bathe in some of that light with him," Battier said.
"Hey, I clip those voting results out of the newspaper. I'll save them for my kids, and someday I'll pull them and say, ?Hey, look here. Your old man was once a pretty good ballplayer. Look at all the votes he got for the All-Star Game.' "