Rockets center Clint Capela is going to miss the next 4-6 weeks with ligament damage in his hand, according to reports. The Rockets are about to embark on their toughest stretch of the season.
It's not the toughest stretch due to who they are playing, but who they are playing without. Make no mistake, Capela is the second most important player on the Rockets.
On a team that is completely built around the talents of James Harden, Capela is the most important secondary piece, because the Rockets have no way of replacing any part of his production.
Injuries have been an issue for the Rockets all season, and Eric Gordon and Chris Paul are significant absences. However, Mike D'Antoni has gotten improved and more consistent play from Gerald Green and recently acquired Austin Rivers to help make up those absences. Replacing Capela is far more difficult.
Nene is 36, and the Rockets know they cannot play him more than 15 minutes a game or on back-to-backs if they expect to keep him healthy. He also cannot play at the level of Capela (17.6 PPG; 12.6 RPG 1.83 BPG) even in regulated minutes.
The Harden/Capela pick and roll is a staple of the offense, and one that cannot be replicated the same way with any other player on the roster.
While slightly-used big men Isaiah Hartenstein and Marquese Chriss could see more action, I don't expect it to be much. I do expect the Rockets to play a lot of small ball, I expect to see PJ Tucker seeing more time as the big man on the floor for Houston, and for the team to lean on James Harden even more.
Six weeks essentially brings us to March 1. The Rockets will play 20 games in that stretch, about 25% of the season. Their opponents' win percentage for that stretch is 48%, although they will face the Lakers twice, Toronto, Denver, Utah, OKC & Golden State in that stretch as well.
While D'Antoni said this weekend he expects Gordon back later this week and Paul the following week, neither fit the bill of replacing a big man. Of course, the team's poor decisions in the offseason have left the team very shorthanded in the frontcourt.
We are about to see what the Rockets are made of, because they will need to find creative ways to win games, and hopefully not burn out some other players in the process. It's a good thing James Harden is essentially indestructible, because there is going to be a lot of small ball and even more dependency on reigning MVP for another 6 weeks.
Patrick Creighton hosts "Late Hits" 7-9p weeknights on ESPN Houston 97.5 & "Straight Heat" 9a-12p weekdays on SB Nation Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @PCreighton1
While most of the Astros roster is returning for the 2024 season, there are still some areas of uncertainty for the club. Astros manager Joe Espada will have some tough decisions to make in his first season managing the team.
The Astros infield is set, so we know who will be playing on a nightly basis, assuming health. The outfield is where things get tricky. Espada told the Houston Chronicle last week that he hopes to play Alvarez more in left field this season, which would open up the DH spot for Chas McCormick and players he would like to rest while keeping their bat in the lineup (Yainer Diaz, Jose Altuve, etc).
Astros GM Dana Brown would like to see if Jake Meyers can hit well enough to play regularly in center field. This is a team that stresses defense, which Meyers provides. But if defense is the top priority, wouldn't that mean Chas McCormick should play left field with Yordan Alvarez hitting in the DH spot?
Certainly, there will be nights when that's the case. The reality of the situation is all these guys are going to play, but how much and where is yet to be seen.
Houston plays 20 games in 21 days to start the season, so it's not going to take long to see if Meyers is providing enough offense to play regularly. If we get into the month of May and Meyers is an offensive liability in the lineup, we won't be surprised if his playing time starts to decrease. But by how much?
Don't miss the video as we examine how Joe Espada will deploy his outfielders and get the most out of the DH this season!
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