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Yao Ming's best season paying off for Rockets

Among NBA watchers, there's been a lot of recent attention in the West on Phoenix because of the Shaquille O'Neal trade, Dallas because of Jason Kidd going back to the Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers because they've finally assembled some talent around Kobe Bryant to become one of the favorites for the NBA title. And in the East, the Celtics still have the league's best record, followed closely by Detroit and Cleveland just made an interesting trade for Ben Wallace.

But while all that has been going on, the Houston Rockets have put together a torrid mid-season run with a 12-game winning streak and 16 victories in their last 17 games. That's taken Houston from barely .500 (20-19) to 36-20.  In the competitive Western Conference, though, Houston still has a long way to go. Even with that impressive run, they're a bubble team and could still be overtaken by Denver for a playoff spot.

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A major difference for the Rockets has been the emergence of 7-foot-6 center Yao Ming as a game-in, game-out presence. In his sixth season, Ming is having the best year of his NBA career. With 55 games under his belt, he's on a pace to play in far more games than the previous two seasons,  when injuries limited him to 57 games in 2005-06 and 48 last season. And his average so far of 22 points and nearly 11 rebounds will easily surpass his best season totals. If Ming can avoid the injuries that have dogged him and Tracy McGrady continues his steady play, Houston could be a Cinderella team in the spring.

Photo credit:  Associated Press

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