The Houston Rockets head into the All-Star break with a 33-24 record and sit in fifth place overall in the Western Conference. It’s certainly not where many people thought they’d be come February when asked at the beginning of the season, but considering how things started out, it’s not a terrible place to be.
Houston began the year 11-14, but has a 22-10 record since, which is a .687 winning percentage over the past 32 games. If they keep racking up Ws at that pace, they’ll grab 17 of their final 25 games for a 50-win season. Back in early October, we were discussing here at TDS if the Rockets would match last year’s 65-win total, so by that measure, hoping for 50 seems a bit underwhelming. But considering the borderline disaster over the season’s first quarter, I’ll take it.
There’s a myriad of reasons the Rockets find themselves in the middle of the Western Conference playoff pack instead of leading it, from sub-par rebounding, to major defensive slippage, and shooting slumps from both Eric Gordon and Chris Paul.
But one of the main causes of Houston’s failure to reach their potential in the win-loss column has been some serious battles with the injury bug. It’s true that all teams deal with injuries throughout the year (most of the time!), but it’s seemed particularly egregious this season for the Rockets.
Chris Paul has missed a total of 23 games with hamstring strains and hasn’t looked like the same player all season long. Whether that’s simply due to battling these nagging injuries and struggling to find consistency or it’s from a legitimate drop in ability for the 33-year-old point guard is yet to be fully determined.
He was practically invisible in the fourth quarter in Houston’s Wednesday night loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, going just 1-3 from the field and missing two key shots down the stretch that would’ve been clutch, but the good news is that this appears to be the healthiest CP3 has been all season. And his play has generally improved overall in recent days.
Head coach Mike D’Antoni told the Houston Chronicle :
“He’s totally back. Singlehandedly he can turn a game around with either defense or rebounding or hitting shots.”
So we should soon know if Paul has slipped or not with the league hitting it’s crescendo after the break and Paul’s health at 100 percent. It’s time for CP3 to put his stamp on this year.
But Paul is hardly the only injury the Rockets have had to deal with. Eric Gordon has missed 12 games, Nene was hurt to start the season and has only played in 28 games so far, Gerald Green has missed time with injuries, as have former Rockets James Ennis and Brandon Knight. Even Michael-Carter Williams spent time on the injury list and missed games with an illness (remember when he was actually playing? Yeah, that was fun).
New Rocket Austin Rivers has even got in on the act, missing Wednesday night’s loss with a sore right elbow. In fact, P.J. Tucker’s the only Rocket to not miss a game this season, going 57 for 57 in true iron man style.
And of course, there’s the big one we’re all waiting on right now, and that’s the return of Clint Capela. Capela’s been out since injuring his thumb back on January 13, and he’s missed 15 games.
According to Mike D’Antoni, however, Capela will be back in action following the All-Star break. He told the Chron that Wednesday’s game was:
“...the last one until Clint comes back probably. He’s doing everything without contact, I guess those two practices will determine whether he will play the first game (after the break) or not.”
So with Capela expected back right after the break or close to it, CP3 finally close to 100-percent, and Rivers’ absence more precautionary and rest-oriented in nature for his elbow, the Rockets are poised to head down the season’s home stretch with the healthiest rotation they’ve had all year.
So while that’s certainly a good thing, we’re also about to see what these Rockets are made of. Despite all the turbulence this year, they’re finally rolling with a healthy rotation, and according to GM Daryl Morey, this is the team they’ve been working towards building all year (save a possible buyout or Danuel House return).
There’s 25 games and the playoffs left to write the finale’ to this 2018-2019 NBA season, and all you can ask for is to put your best lineup forward and see how it all shakes out. A healthy Rockets will have that opportunity.