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

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Houston needs a win to advance

ALWC Game 2 Preview: Astros vs. Twins

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

It took all nine innings, but the Astros rallied late and took Game 1 by a score of 4-1 and are in the driver's seat in this best-of-three series. They'll return to Target Field, home of the Twins, on Wednesday afternoon to try and get the win and advance to the ALDS. Here's what you need to know about Game 2:

Game Facts

When: Wednesday, 12:08 PM Central

Where: Target Field - Minneapolis, Minnesota

TV: ESPN 2

Streaming: ESPN App

Pitching Matchup: Jose Urquidy+ vs. José Berríos.

Series: HOU leads 1-0.

Series Schedule

Date & Time (Central) Location Pitching Matchup
Game 1 Astros 4, Twins 1 Target Field, Minneapolis Greinke vs. Maeda
Game 2 Wed 9/30, 12:08 PM Target Field, Minneapolis Urquidy+ vs. Berríos
Game 3* Thu 10/1, 12:08 PM Target Field, Minneapolis McCullers Jr.+ vs. Pineda+

* If necessary.
+ Projected starters.

Game Storylines

Houston's offense has to get going earlier

The Twins' error in the ninth inning in Game 1 was a gift for the Astros that they were able to take advantage of and score the winning runs. It's unlikely to be handed another chance like that in the postseason, so in Game 2, it's paramount that Houston creates their own opportunities at the plate.

The good news is, every batter in the lineup was able to reach base in the first game, either by hit or walk. However, they would go 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position while leaving nine on base during the game. Because they can't expect to have two pitchers to combine for a one-run game on Wednesday, they will have to carry over the momentum from the end of Game 1 into Game 2 to build a lead their bullpen can carry.

Trust your arms to navigate through

Whether it's Jose Urquidy, who is the likely candidate, or anyone else who ends up starting Wednesday's game, the Astros have to be prepared to have a longer stretch of innings filled by their bullpen. Despite his struggles to end the regular season, Greinke did well only to allow one run to the Twins over his four innings in Game 1.

You should expect a similar outcome in Game 2, where hopefully your starter can hold the Twins at bay for as long as they can before needing to make the change to relievers. It will be interesting to see how Dusty Baker plays that situation, mostly dependent on the score at the time, as he could have someone like Cristian Javier come in for multiple innings. The only thing the Astros shouldn't do is fire too many of their bullets and put their chances in a potential Game 3 at risk.

Be sure to check SportsMap after the final out for an in-depth recap of the game, and follow me on Twitter for updates and reactions throughout each playoff game: @ChrisCampise

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