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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NASCAR: Quaker State 400 preview

Photo via: WikiCommons.

This week, the NASCAR cup series heads to Kentucky Motor Speedway for the Quaker State 400. Built in 2001, this track is a 1.5 mile tri-oval with a dog-leg on the front stretch. The most dangerous part of the track has to be turn three as the corner is flat compared to the other three corners that are banked. This has been a major point of contingency for these drivers as most of the cautions end up being there. Look for turn three to be a hot spot come Sunday. Last year, both the Busch brothers finished 1-2 in one of the most exciting finishes of the season so there will be a lot of hype for this race to live up to.

Last week at Indy, as we all expected the race was a crazy one. Over the course of the race's 160 laps, we saw many horrific accidents including a scary pit road accident involving Corey Lajoe, Ryan Blaney, Justin Allgier, Ryan Preece and others. The wreck started when everyone got stacked up entering the pits and the calamity was on from there. During the wreck Brennan Poole struck Rear Tire Changer Zach Price as he was trying to avoid the wrecking cars in front of him. After the incident fans and media alike all held their breath as they awaited news on his condition. But when the camera panned to him being loaded into the ambulance, there was a huge sigh of relief as he gave everyone a thumbs up signifying he was okay. Another scary moment was both Erik Jones and Alex Bowman's vicious crashes. Both cars had tire failures that sent their cars directly into the wall. Fortunately both drivers were okay but their days were over.

In the end, tire wear would end up claiming one more victim as it took out Denny Hamlin as well. With seven laps to go, the four-time winner this season was in prime position to get his fifth victory until his right front tire blew out, sending him hard into the turn 2 wall. This mishap handed the win to his main rival in the championship, Kevin Harvick, as he went on to claim his third Brickyard 400 victory and fourth win of the year. When it was all over, many questioned why there were so many tire failures and if new owner Roger Penske would make an effort to possibly widen the pit-road after the massive accident on Sunday.

Needless to say, there are a lot of questions on what will be different at Indy in 2021. When I talked to spotter Freddie Kraft on Tuesday, he gave a lot of good insights on both topics. When it came to the tire failures, he talked about how the increasing corner speeds at the racetrack has put a lot of pressure on these Goodyear tires which eventually led to them coming apart. As far as Pit-Road and what they can do to fix that, he talked about how it is difficult to make changes to a track that is so historical. Which makes sense, but he followed this up by saying that maybe it would be wise to give up a little history and move the wall over and make it wider. It will be interesting to see what NASCAR does in the coming months.

On Friday, Associated Press journalist Jenna Fryer revealed a bombshell announcement that 7-time champion and NASCAR's biggest name Jimmie Johnson, had tested positive for coronavirus. As everyone knows, the world is going through the worst pandemic it's ever faced in this lifetime. With the sport coming back and racing again, it was only a matter of time until one of the drivers came down with it. Unfortunately it had to be NASCAR's most recognizable driver. Thankfully, Jimmie made a full recovery and was cleared to return this weekend at Kentucky. This was a big scare for everyone in the NASCAR world, but I have to give a lot of credit to Johnson for being as forthright as he was about his diagnosis with everyone who he works with. It will be good to have Jimmie back on Sunday.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Kyle Busch. While this season has been a disappointment for the defending champion, Kentucky would be a great place for him to turn it around. Ever since the cup series has started going there, Kyle has always been in contention to win. In fact, he won the first cup series race that was run at this track back in 2011. In his nine starts there, Kyle has finished outside the top ten only once and even then he finished 12th, back in 2016. Last season it appeared that Kyle was on his way to a third victory at this track, but he came up one spot short to his brother Kurt in a fantastic last lap duel. After a late race restart this weekend though, I see Kyle redeeming himself and capturing his first victory of 2020. Look for Kyle to get back on track come Sunday.


All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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