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Facing injuries, Mike D’Antoni weighs starting Carmelo Anthony against Clippers

Is starting Carmelo the right choice at this point?

NBA: Utah Jazz at Houston Rockets Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Mike D’Antoni and the Rockets coaching staff have a tough decision to make after James Harden left last night’s 100-89 loss to the Jazz with a hamstring injury.

Harden, who led his team with 29 points and 7 assists, didn’t practice on Thursday after he left Wednesday night’s game with 5:19 remaining. It was then announced that the reigning MVP would be “very doubtful” to play in Friday’s game at home against the Clippers.

“It’s probably closer to a strain than it is tightness,” D’Antoni said. “He wouldn’t have gone out if it was just tight. He probably felt a little bit more, I’m sure. But I don’t want to jump ahead. I don’t know exactly. I expect tomorrow will be tough [for Harden to play]. After that, I don’t know.”

All of the precautionary steps are most likely in response to a hamstring injury that Harden suffered last year- one that caused him to miss seven games in January. Harden isn’t too worried about it, though, and he doesn’t believe that it’s anything to that extent.

“It’s nothing serious, nothing serious,” Harden said. “It’s nothing close to last year. Just being cautious.”

ESPN’s Tim McMahon also reported that Harden didn’t leave Toyota Center with a noticeable limp.

Now, with Harden and James Ennis III (expected to miss a few more games) out for Friday’s match, D’Antoni is mulling over starting Carmelo Anthony at small forward.

Anthony had his breakout game of the season last night against the Jazz. Melo was the only other Rocket to score 20 points (22 total), and he shot an efficient 9-of-17 from the field to go along with 7 rebounds in 38 minutes. He was also tied with Harden for the best differential (-5) of any Rocket who played over 30 minutes.

It might not have been Rocket ball, but it was vintage Melo. Anthony absolutely dominated his match up in the post, knocked down a couple of threes, shot well from mid-range, and contributed on defense. While his confidence is high, it absolutely makes sense to start him.

Unfortunately, even with Chris Paul’s return on Friday from suspension, the Rockets are still light at the guard position. It seems like the right move would be to bring Eric Gordon off the bench and start Michael Carter-Williams at the guard position. Anthony would be the fifth starter after P.J. Tucker and Clint Capela.

Gordon was abysmal in last night’s start, going 1-of-12 from the three-point line and scoring only 11 points on 21 shots in 39 minutes. It’d be best to put him back in his natural spot with the Rockets, and allow him to create shots for himself and the be the primary ball handler off the bench.

The debate for Anthony starting actually lies in which position he would be playing: the three or the four. While Tucker can guard nearly anyone on the court, allowing him to help on the wing at the three spot and have the less-agile Anthony body-up with a big makes the most sense. Still, it shouldn’t be something to worry about. The Rockets are mostly fluid with their positions, and it will all come down to match ups.

If Anthony can stay hot and Gerald Green and Gordon can get rolling, the injury-ridden Rockets should still give the Clippers plenty to battle against on Friday.