Yao Plays Sparingly Before Beijing Crowd

Yao Ming played only 19 minutes while easing back from foot surgery, scoring nine points and delighting his home fans as the Houston Rockets defeated the New Jersey Nets 91-81 in a preseason game Wednesday.

Yao was naturally the center of attention for the noisy, sellout crowd of 17,000 at Wukesong Arena — the Beijing Olympics basketball venue — even though he played sparingly and finished with four rebounds.

“Everything is geared toward letting me hold up longer,” said Yao, who admitted he was reluctantly getting used to it the limited minutes. “Even little kids know, vegetables might not taste very good, but they’re good for you and healthy, that’s how it is.”

After sitting out last season following surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot, Yao frequently jogged down the court while his teammates raced ahead. But there were also flashes of his soft touch, flicking the ball into the net above a swarm of defenders.

“We’re just trying to bring him along slowly but he’s gotten better every game. We’re very pleased with what’s happening,” Houston coach Rick Adelman said.

Adelman said he planned to allow the center to play 24 minutes in one of their final two preseason games before their Oct. 26 season-opener against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Kevin Martin scored 18 points and Aaron Brooks added 17 to lead Houston in the opener of the fifth set of NBA preseason games in China. The Rockets and Nets will play again Saturday, when they mark the debut of the Guangzhou International Sports Arena.

Brook Lopez led New Jersey with 22 points, while Terrence Williams came off the bench to add 20 points and Devin Harris had 19. Harris also had seven of the Nets’ 11 assists.

Houston led 53-42 at the half.

The Nets almost caught up in the third, using a 10-2 run to pull to 69-67 by the end of the quarter.

“Our ball movement needs to improve,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “We’re a team that takes pride on swinging the basketball and we didn’t swing it enough tonight.”

The Rockets led for nearly the entire game. They jumped out to an early lead, finishing the first quarter ahead 33-23.

The NBA has been aggressive in expanding to China, beginning in 2004, when it became the first American professional sports league to play games there. The Rockets and Sacramento Kings played a pair of games in Shanghai and Beijing that season.