For a second time in under a month, second-year Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr. is sidelined by a left ankle sprain. Smith missed Sunday’s home game versus Boston after turning his ankle in the waning moments of Saturday’s overtime victory over Utah.
“I’m alright,” Smith said postgame Saturday. “I just went up and got the rebound, and I think I came down on somebody’s ankle and just landed wrong. I think I just rolled my ankle.”
Fred VanVleet (lower back tightness) and Jeff Green (sore left calf) also sat out Sunday, at least in part due to back-to-back considerations.
With Smith out, Houston could start Jae’Sean Tate at forward. Tari Eason (left lower leg injury management) remains out with his own injury, and Tate started several games in place of Dillon Brooks when he missed time with a strained oblique earlier this month.
Smith, 20, is averaging 13.7 points (47.4% FG, 38.2% on 3-pointers) and 8.7 rebounds in 31.7 minutes per game this season. He’s widely viewed as one of Houston’s best and most versatile defenders.
When Smith first sprained his left ankle in late December, he only missed a game before returning. Similarly, when he left Houston’s locker room on Saturday night, he wasn’t using crutches or a brace. That typically indicates that the injury isn’t viewed as especially serious, and it’s possible that Sunday’s absence is only due to it being a back-to-back and the game coming less than 24 hours after the injury.
Even so, because it’s the same ankle, it’s plausible that Houston might opt to be more cautious the second time around. The Rockets (20-21) return to action Wednesday night at home versus Portland before going out on a road trip to Charlotte and Brooklyn over the weekend. Smith’s status for those games is not yet known.
Jabari Smith Jr. with an update on his ankle injury (suffered in OT in tonight's game) and more after the #Rockets 127-126 win@jabarismithjr 24 PTS & 10 REB tonight vs UTAH@HoustonRockets on SCHN pic.twitter.com/zaZjx8qvgp
— Space City Home Network (@SpaceCityHN) January 21, 2024