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Artest OK, Yao ??? for today

HOUSTON – Rick Adelman did not verbalize quite the way Phil Jackson selected his words this week, but Saturday morning’s assessment sounded the same.

The Lakers had played about as badly as they could play in losing Game 1. Ditto for the Rockets in Game 3, because Los Angeles obviously owned the upper hand throughout the second half of its 108-94 victory in Toyota Center.

When Saturday arrived, the Lakers trotted in early for a noon workout with starting point guard Derek Fisher running the offense again.

By the time the Rockets slept in and came to the office for their 3 o’clock workout, the home side at least had a piece of good news to report on shooting guard Ron Artest.

The NBA reduced the flagrant two foul penalty assessed to Artest to a flagrant one, eliminating any chance that he could be suspended for Sunday’s Game 4 against the Lakers at 2:30 on ABC. Artest fouled the Lakers’ Pau Gasol in the

last minute of the Rockets’ loss and was ejected from a second consecutive game.

NBA executive vice president Stu Jackson reviewed the video on Saturday and reduced the penalty.

Yao Ming’s Game 4 status for today at 2:30 predictably has evolved into a game-time decision, based on Saturday’s exam and a CT scan by Rockets’ team doctor Tom Clanton at Memorial Hermann Hospital.

Yao apparently sustained a left ankle sprain sometime in the second quarter of Game 3. By the time Yao removed his Size 18 Nike Shox Supremacy custom-designed shoes at 11:25 on Friday night, the 7-6 all-star center selected his words carefully.

“I know I really want to play very badly in Game 4,” he said. “I will just have to see how it (his left ankle) tests out.”

This reporter asked Yao two questions and Yao politely and directly responded to both of them:

Q: What kind of a test will it be?

A: Just running… running to see if I can get up and down the court well

enough on it.

Q: Did you remember when or how it happened?

A: I know it was twisted and it feels sore but I don’t know exactly when it happened. It had to be sometime probably early in the second quarter, because it hurt some in the second quarter and it hurt more in the third and more than that in the fourth.

Yao played 40 minutes, scoring 19 points and grabbing a team-high 14 rebounds. He struggled badly to cope with the penetrations and acrobatics of Lakers’ superstar Kobe Bryant, who scored a game-high 33 points but canned only 11 of 28 field-goal attempts.

Yao thought his limp became more and more noticeable as the game wore on.

“It kept getting worse and worse last night,” the Rockets’ center told Rockets’ official Andy Yao later Saturday. “If everything’s all right, I’ll play Sunday.”

“If he can’t go,” said Rockets forward Shane Battier, “this isn’t the first time this team has faced adversity.”