Tracy McGrady plays at far less than full speed. Yao Ming sits out a division game to rest his sore left foot.
These are the times when Daryl Morey is even more valuable to the Houston Rockets.
Through a smart combination of trades, drafts and free agent signings, the Rockets' general manager has put together a deep roster, essential for a team whose stars haven't been able to stay healthy.
``It's frustrating in that it takes you farther away from your goals,'' Morey said of the injuries. ``But it's probably the most interesting part of the job, is make sure you manage your roster such that if you do take injuries or you do have issues, you're hedging that risk as much as possible.''
The Rockets won 55 games, including 22 in a row, last season despite having McGrady and Yao on the floor together only 41 times. The injury woes quickly popped up less than a month into this season.
h Wednesday against Dallas by Yao.
Yet they went into the weekend leading the powerful Southwest Division, boosted by contributions from reserves such as Carl Landry, Aaron Brooks, Chuck Hayes and even free agent Van Wafer.
``Often it might have made a difference of one win in a year, but we feel like the hard work that went into scouting and finding those players, one win is a big difference,'' Morey said. ``One more win for us last year and we would have been a higher seed and had an easier first-round matchup.''
Morey, who received his MBA from MIT and worked to develop Stats, Inc.'s basketball statistical department, is a leader in the use of analytical data in the NBA. He won't say how large a staff the Rockets have researching theirs, but has found coaches interested in his methods.
``I think that coaches know it's a long season and while generally you can trust what you're watching, sometimes it's good to take a step back and see how it's worked overall,'' Morey said. ``(The) last coach, (Jeff) Van Gundy, was interested if certain players miss shots early, does that mean they're going to miss later?
``So I found that what we can provide coaches day to day makes the relationship very easy, because we don't answer them, but we can help give him some directional information to answer the questions they have every day that might have been harder to answer in the past.''
yses of his team don't show the answers the Rockets want to see, though there's plenty of time for that to change.
``We benchmark ourselves to conference final and finals teams, and constantly assess where we're at. As much as we'd like to think we're doing good things, we're still falling short of where to need to be to really have a high probability of winning,'' Morey said.
``I think the Lakers and Celtics are the class of the league right now in terms of where we want to be. And we're in that next group down and we're hoping to get up to their level of play.''
NO REGRETS: The day before he was in the news for a different type of transaction, Mark Cuban said he doesn't regret one of his basketball deals.
The acquisition of Jason Kidd couldn't get the Dallas Mavericks out of the first round last season, and they got off to a poor start to this one, but Cuban said his point guard isn't to blame.
``Jason Kidd's been our best player so far,'' the owner said. ``He's been doing amazing things, been proving why he's a Hall of Famer and I mean J-Kidd has just been phenomenal. I can't speak highly enough of him, so it's been a win-win trade.''
New Orleans in the first round, with Kidd badly outplayed by Chris Paul.
Kidd has played fine this season, but Dallas lost seven of its first nine games. Meanwhile, Harris got off to a terrific start to his fifth season for New Jersey, averaging 23 points with three 30-point games in his first seven outings.
Cuban, who on Monday was charged with insider trading by the Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly using confidential information on a stock sale to avoid more than $750,000 in losses, realizes the Kidd trade has been scrutinized because Dallas gave up so much and so far has gotten so little.
But Cuban believes it was the right deal, even though he also likes Harris.
``He's always been a scorer. That's never been an issue. Devin's doing what he does - a one-man fast break,'' Cuban said. ``He's a great player and he works hard. And he gets better all the time, that's one of the good things about Devin. But we wanted, we made the decision that we wanted to go in a different direction. So like I said, Jason Kidd's been our best player and it's not even close right now, so it's been a win-win trade.''
THEY'RE ALL DOPEY: During a timeout in Thursday's game against Detroit, the Boston Celtics entertained fans with a contest on the scoreboard in which a couple players tried to name all of Snow White's seven dwarfs.
ked from the crowd got six.
Which did they all forget?
So, how did Celtics coach Glenn ``Doc'' Rivers feel about that?
``I think we're going to practice on Monday, now,'' he said with mock anger. ``Honestly, I don't think I could name all seven, either.''
OLD SCHOOL: Later this season, Chicago will play against Chicago in Washington.
That's the way it will appear from the uniforms, anyway.
As part of the Wizards' 45th anniversary celebration, they will play four games this season in uniforms from 1962-63, when they were the Chicago Zephyrs. One of those games will be Feb. 27, when they host the Bulls.
Three other teams will wear retro uniforms while taking part in NBA Hardwood Classics Nights, which began this weekend when the Philadelphia 76ers were attired in throwback gear on Friday and Sunday.
The 76ers will celebrate their 60th anniversary by playing 19 games wearing the home uniform from their 1982-83 team, which had won Philadelphia's last championship before the Phillies' World Series victory.
Cleveland will play 10 games in the original yellow uniforms it wore between 1970 and 1974, and the Hornets will honor the history of basketball in New Orleans four times when they wear the home uniforms of the ABA's Bucs from the 1967-68 season.
The Cavaliers and Hornets will both go retro when they face each other in Cleveland on Jan. 16.
AP Sports Writer Jimmy Golen in Boston contributed to this report.

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