The Rockets are banged up. Dwight Howard's on the shelf, Kostas Papanikolaou is out who knows how long with a sprained ankle, and Patrick Beverley has been sick for like two weeks.
The forgotten Rocket this season has been Terrence Jones, but since the All-Star break, he's emerged as the two-way force Houston needs him to be.
Monday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves, he put up 15 points and 15 rebounds, with two blocks, one turnover. That's his best game since coming back, but not his first good game. He's now at 11.7 points and 11 rebounds per game in the Rockets' three games since the break, including two wins. He played 31 minutes tonight, the most since coming back from his injury on Jan. 28.
As the game went on, Jones only got stronger. He took over the fourth quarter in tandem with James Harden, grabbing key offensive rebounds, stepping up on defense and outworking the entire Minnesota front line. He was relentless, and it's this version of Terrence Jones that it's easy to forget about when he hasn't played in months.
Yes, Terrence Jones could be considered by some a low-upside player, but if you rate motor as an NBA skill, Jones becomes a well above-average starting power forward.
That's what he was Monday night. He got his first start since coming back, sliding Donatas Motiejunas -- who wilted in his matchup with the NBA's most intimidating dude, Nikola Pekovic -- to center and pushing Joey Dorsey to the bench where he belongs.
This is the ideal sans-Dwight lineup. Donuts should play better most nights, but he's just not physically capable of handling Pekovic and it threw him off his game. I'd much rather Joey Dorsey's 10 or 11 minutes be against bench players. His hustle and energy can do more damage against them than against the starting centers in the NBA.
Neither of them do what Terrence Jones can do. He's fully recovered from knee injury, and it's showed the last handful of games. Tonight there was a rebound where he could have pinned the basketball at the top of the box on the backboard. He was way up in the air.
He also had two blocks tonight, bringing his average over this three-game span down to 3 blocks per game. He's also a plus-27, bolstered by a ridiculous plus-28 he put up Saturday night against the Raptors.
The fact is, the Rockets are simply a stronger team when he plays. The Rockets are 14.5 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor than off it this season, according to basketball-reference, and that's before factoring in Monday night. The team feeds off his energy and his athleticism, and everyone plays better because of it.
As the playoff picture comes more into view -- and the Rockets hit this next stretch of games against the Clippers, Nets, Cavaliers, Hawks and Grizzlies -- the Rockets will need this version of Terrence Jones.
While James Harden is and will always be the most important Rocket, bullying his way through the league on his way to the MVP, it's Jones and a healthy Dwight Howard that will make the difference in May.