Rockets, Kings approaching All-Star break with different goals
Houston has just four games left before the All-Star break, a scheduled reprieve that should allow the injury-ravaged Rockets to rest, reclaim their health and ready themselves for a challenging stretch run in the hyper-competitive Western Conference.
Two of those four opponents have winning records and are also in the thick of the postseason chase, with the Sacramento Kings on deck for Wednesday on the road at the Golden 1 Center.
The Rockets won in Phoenix on Monday without center Clint Capela (right thumb) and guard Eric Gordon (right leg), utilizing their 16th different starting lineup in the process. They have thrived on occasion despite the injuries, but far more often they have persevered, with forward P.J. Tucker the only member of the roster to have participated in all 53 contests.
Guard Chris Paul has missed 23 games this season, while Gordon has missed 12 and Capela 11. James Ennis III made his 25th start in the Rockets' 118-110 victory, but he's been absent 14 games. James Harden, who recorded his 20th 40-point game with 44 points against the Suns, has been sidelined for three games although those absences are a distant memory, erased by his ongoing streak of consecutive 30-point games, which hit 27 against Phoenix.
"I'm always locked in, but it's an opportunity, especially coming off last year and the momentum we had," Harden said. "To get off to that slow start, being injured, just trying to bounce back. I feel like I've got some making up to do. So, I want to get back to a rhythm and put ourselves in the best position to compete."
The Rockets are optimistic that Capela will return immediately following the break while Gordon should play against the Kings. And, there is anticipation that general manager Daryl Morey will execute an acquisition of some kind prior to the trade deadline on Thursday, better positioning Houston to make a run for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Sacramento would be happy merely to qualify for the postseason, considering its 12-season playoff drought. The upstart Kings extended their home-court winning streak to seven games with a 127-112 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Monday, a triumph that left Sacramento one-half game behind the Los Angeles Clippers for eighth place in the West.
Whereas the Rockets have relied on Harden to keep their shorthanded roster in playoff contention, the Kings have turned to youngers to fuel their postseason aspirations.
Starting backcourt mates Buddy Hield and De'Aaron Fox have combined to produce 37.9 points, 8.7 rebounds and 9.6 assists per game while Bogdan Bogdanovic (14.9), rookie Marvin Bagley (13.2) and Willie Cauley-Stein (13.1) are all scoring in double figures. At 26 years and 171 days old, the Serbian native Bogdanovic is the elder statesman of that exciting quintet.
"I'm excited for us, where we could be, and where we're going right now," Bagley said after combining a career-high 24 points with 12 rebounds against the Spurs. "We're playing well as a team and we've just got to lock in some more, finish out our stretch at home, and go into the All-Star break with great confidence."
--Field Level Media
Updated February 5, 2019