The Houston Rockets came into this season expecting to contend for an NBA championship after acquiring star big man Dwight Howard. Ups and downs have been a part of the early season, however they still have won enough to be 18-10 (fifth out West) after Saturday night’s win over the Detroit Pistons.
James Harden missed his fifth game of the season with ankle soreness after spraining it last Sunday originally. He was able to play through the pain this week but made mention of the pain he was going through as well. Here’s what he had to say following the game last Sunday — a loss to the Sacramento Kings…
“It’s very, very painful. I am trying to get through this, stay positive and focus on getting back.”
The last words being the most pivotal — “focus on getting back” — he should have said focus on getting “healthy.” With that said here are the top three reasons for the Rockets to let Harden take his time coming back from this injury.
1. Rushing Could Hurt More
We’ve lost a number of stars already this NBA season and their teams are definitely missing them as well. Not all of them came back “too early” from an injury but there were some that were questionable; namely Kobe Bryant. Kobe came back way ahead of scheduled from a ruptured achilles tendon and subsequently fractured a bone in his knee and has to sit out another six weeks. The injury wasn’t necessarily related but whose to say that Kobe (we all know Kobe) didn’t overexert himself and cause the injury?
Brook Lopez sat out a couple of games with a sprained ankle, then for some crazy reason, his first game back Jason Kidd played him 44 minutes and he subsequently broke a bone in his foot — ending his season.
Other stars that have missed a good stretch of time: Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol as well. Those weren’t related to coming back too early, but the message is clear — let James Harden get healthy before he comes back or there could be serious consequences down the road.
2. Dwight Howard and Chandler Parsons
Dwight showed Saturday night how the Rockets offense can sustain a long stretch without James Harden — he dominated the huge front line of Detroit in route to 35 points (season high), 19 rebounds and three blocks. His season numbers have been right in line with his career numbers, but if Harden sits you would imagine the Rockets running more and more offense through their star center.
Parsons, maybe the most underrated player in the league, is averaging a career high 17 points per game while shooting a ridiculous 51.9 percent from the field and 40.8 percent from 3 (both career highs as well). Parsons helps this offense in so many ways as he, like Harden, facilitates a lot (3.8 assists from the small forward spot) and is also a great on the ball defender.
Both players have the ability to help sustain the run and gun style of basketball the Rockets like to play, and with Jeremy Lin set to return from his back spasms he could also provide a nice scoring punch. The Rockets were dealt another injury blow Saturday night as Patrick Beverley fractured a bone in his hand and will be out for the foreseeable future. Aaron Brooks will no doubt be called on to step up in Beverley’s absence.
3. Championship Aspirations
We mentioned it earlier — the major injuries have started to pile up in the NBA this season and like most teams, the Rockets could ill afford to lose their superstar if they hope to contend for an NBA championship. Yes, they went out and nabbed Dwight to help out, but without Harden there is simply no chance the Rockets could contend with the super deep Western Conference.
It’s hard to replace 24 points, five assists and five rebounds a night from mere stats perspective, but when you think about all the plays Harden is able to make for his teammates the loss would be astronomical. There are few players in the league that need to be double teamed on a regular basis and Harden is one of those guys. That double team opens up role players like Francisco Garcia, Omri Casspi and Terrence Jones for easy looks that they wouldn’t normally get.
The task at hand for the Rockets — get healthy and then stay that way. It’s always easier said than done, but there is one thing that is in their control — let Harden rest! Make sure that he is not rushing back and putting himself in a position to worsen the injury or to subject himself to an alternate injury. Injuries are part of sports, but showing caution when possible can go a long way.
One thing is for certain — without James Harden this team would lose in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs and that would be a major disappointment.
**You can contact Chris regarding this article on twitter: @Chris_Reichert