SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ Clyde Drexler and Mario Elie are back. Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Cassell are on the way.

The Houston Rockets are starting to get healthy again. But that doesn't mean they're even close to the form that has led them to two straight NBA titles.

``It's just not easy to bring guys back and play smoothly,'' said coach Rudy Tomjanovich. ``It's going to be an unbelievable challenge to get back and be competitive, because just getting back healthy is not going to do it.''

Despite the return of Drexler and Elie from long stays on the injured list, the Rockets lost 96-91 Friday night to the Sacramento Kings _ Houston's ninth loss in 10 games.

The Rockets already have slipped from fourth to fifth in the Western Conference, which would cost them home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They are 4 1/2 games ahead of sixth-place Portland, which has won six straight.

Drexler, playing for the first time since Feb. 26 arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, had 23 points in 29 minutes against Sacramento.

``There was a little game rust, but for the most part I felt good. It was a lot of fun being back on the floor,'' said the eight-time all-star. ``I wasn't expecting to play any more than a 12-minute stretch. I played the last 18 minutes and that was a test.''

Kings forward Brian Grant said Sacramento was fortunate that Drexler, who added seven rebounds and four assists, was just coming off the injured list.

``I'm glad this is his first game back and he can gradually work his way back to his 35 points a game against other teams,'' Grant said with a laugh.

Elie, who fractured a bone in his right arm on Jan. 17, had a less auspicious return. He missed all four of his shots and went scoreless in 24 minutes.

``The arm is sore. It can't get any worse, so I just have to go out and play hard, and hopefully in the next week or so it will be real comfortable,'' Elie said. ``By playoff time I should be feeling really good.''

The whole team hopes to be feeling good by playoff time.

Olajuwon is expected back Tuesday at home against Vancouver after missing eight of the last nine games with tendinitis in both knees. Cassell, out since March 5 after having arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow, could return Tuesday or later in the week.

Their returns, along with those of Drexler and Elie, should help Houston revive a struggling offense. The Rockets hit just 38 percent of their shots against Sacramento, missing their first nine 3-pointers and finishing 3-for-18 from behind the 3-point line.

``Clyde played hard,'' Tomjanovich said. ``He was one of our threats, creating shots for other guys. But we weren't making them.''