The resurgent Rockets lost by two points in Miami Thursday night, but here’s what you need to know: they were up eight points in the second quarter when Chris Paul suffered another hamstring injury and had to leave the game. After the loss—which, to be fair, came on the second night of a back-to-back—Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni didn’t sound real optimistic:
Bobby Marks says this is at least the seventh hamstring injury Paul has suffered since 2009, and they appear to be coming more frequently in his advance basketball age. You will recall, the Rockets were up three games to two on the Warriors in last season’s Western Conference Finals when Paul suffered a right hamstring strain, causing him to miss the final two games of the series. That injury plus the Rockets missing a still-mind-boggling 27 consecutive three-pointers cost them a chance at advancing to the Finals. And that was a better team than this one, if for no other reason than that they weren’t relying quite so heavily on brave nightly performances from Gerald Green and Danuel House. This season the Rockets are 0–5 in games played without Paul in the lineup, not including tonight’s loss, and they’re about two points better by net rating with Paul on the floor than off, which in their case has been the difference between playing narrowly in the plus versus narrowly in the minus.
That matters because the Western Conference is insanely tight so far this season. Tonight’s loss dropped the Rockets out of the playoff pack, and it’s important to note that the conference’s fourth seed and the conference’s 14th seed are separated by just four games in the standings. Every single result will matter quite a bit! The Rockets will need Paul to return very quickly and stay healthy, or they will need to conjure up the magic they had on their side to start last season, when they went 11–4 over their first 15 games despite Paul missing 14 of them. I guess, hey, at least Brandon Knight is back?