Clint Capela, who has been a Most Improved Player candidate as a key cog in the Houston Rockets’ 21-7 start, will likely be out a couple of weeks after suffering a small fracture in his fibula.
French newspaper L’Équipe first reported the injury, discovered after Clint underwent an MRI today. Marc Berman confirmed it, reporting Capela will miss six weeks. That puts his return right around Jan. 30. I shouldn’t be trusted with even the most basic arithmetic, but that’s about 23 games without the Swiss Roll (I’m never letting this die, I’m sorry).
This is a terrible reality, and its timing couldn’t be more miserable. The Rockets just had a signed contract in hand from 7-foot Donatas Motiejunas, and now they’ve cut ties with him and he’s an unrestricted free agent. I don’t want to say there’s absolutely no chance he signs with the Rockets now that they need him, but he’s absolutely not going to sign back with the Rockets.
Capela is averaging 11.8 points, 8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks a game, is shooting 64 percent from the field and has been a huge reason for the 10-game winning streak the Rockets are riding. He’s a great screen-setter, a better roller and one of the best finishers in the NBA. Even more importantly, he’s the premier rim-protector on, since Patrick Beverley returned, one of the NBA’s top 10 defenses. His 7-foot-5-inch wingspan alters a good amount of the shots he doesn’t get his hands on.
Losing Capela stings not just because Donuts was in hand, but because his replacement options just don’t fill his role. Nene has been OK in stretches with the bench, but he’s been really bad when he’s playing against starter. Montrezl Harrell is active and fun as hell, and his 7-4 wingspan is almost as good as Capela’s, but he’s not a team defender on the Swiss Roll’s level.
The Rockets face the Spurs tomorrow, and none of Houston’s big men will stand taller than 6-10 against a front line of LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol. They might have to score 130 just to beat San Antonio.
That being said, they can do that. Against the Timberwolves and 41 points from Karl-Anthony Town, the Rockets rode a lineup of James Harden, Patrick Beverley, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson for the entirety of their 17-point comeback victory.
The Spurs are better than the Timberwolves, but all the Rockets have to do is outscore them. That’s a lineup of three-point shooters in which Harden, at 35.6 percent on the year, and Ariza at 37.7 percent, are the weak links.
Lineups like that can work here and there. The Rockets just have to hope that against the best teams in the West — they’ll also be without Capela against the Clippers Dec. 30, another huge game in the suddenly hot race for the two and three seeds — they’ll work enough to survive.