Creight Expectations

Capela injury means Rockets toughest stretch starts now

Jason Miller

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