While most discussion of the Houston Rockets' 118-108 win over the Denver Nuggets focused on All-Star scorer James Harden exploding for a career-high 50 points, the Rockets did suffer a noteworthy and somewhat frightening loss on Thursday night.
After a hot start that saw him score 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting in just 8 1/2 minutes, Houston power forward Terrence Jones did not return to the game after leaving at the 3:26 mark of the first quarter following this scramble for a loose ball, during which the Kentucky product took what looked to be a knee to the side from the Nuggets' Kenneth Faried:
Rockets-focused site ClutchFans later offered an ominous update on Jones' condition:
According to a source, Terrence Jones was wheeled out of the Toyota Center on a stretcher. He was sitting up with a towel over his head.
— ClutchFans (@clutchfans) March 20, 2015
Jones was ruled out for the remainder of the game with a rib injury. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reported Friday that the injury, which led to the 6-foot-9-inch forward being hospitalized overnight, was a bit worse than initially projected:
Terrence Jones out with pneumothorax. Will be reevaluated next week.
— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) March 20, 2015
Pneumothorax is a partially collapsed lung.
— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) March 20, 2015
The Rockets confirmed Jones' diagnosis shortly thereafter, earmarking the 23-year-old for a significant stint on the injured list for the second time this season. He suffered a bruised right leg during the Rockets' Nov. 3 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, an injury that initially seemed minor, but was later revealed to have caused a contusion to his peroneal nerve, which complicated things and kept Jones sidelined for the next 41 games.
Jones returned to the lineup in late January, playing off the bench, under a minutes restriction and with the sort of inconsistency that you'd expect from a player returning after missing the better part of three months. He'd stepped up significantly since the All-Star break, though, averaging 14.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 32.3 minutes per game prior to Thursday, shooting 52.9 percent from the floor and sliding smoothly into the starting lineup alongside Lithuanian big man Donatas Motiejunas, helping the Rockets weather the persistent absence of star center Dwight Howard, who has missed the last 23 games with a right knee injury.
As you might expect, the Rockets' starting lineup hasn't been as good with Jones in Howard's place as it was before Howard went down. But it's been better than the other configurations Kevin McHale's cooked up with Dwight unavailable:
• Howard, Harden, Motiejunas, Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverley: 108.1 points scored per 100 possessions, 96.7 points allowed per 100 possessions, +11.5 net rating in 360 total minutes
• Jones, Harden, Motiejunas, Ariza, Beverley: 106.8 points-per-100 scored, 105.9 points-per-100 allowed, +0.9 net rating in 157 total minutes
• Joey Dorsey, Harden, Motiejunas, Ariza, Beverley: 98.5 points-per-100 scored, 99.1 points-per-100 allowed, -0.6 net rating in 154 total minutes
• Josh Smith, Harden, Motiejunas, Ariza, Beverley: 109.5 points-per-100 scored, 116.7 points-per-100 allowed, -7.2 net rating in 93 total minutes
Jones' combination of talents — a gift for crashing the glass on both ends of the floor, enough bulk and length to contest strong fours on the interior, the foot speed to check quicker forwards and stay solid when switched onto opposing ball-handlers in the pick-and-roll, a decent enough jumper to offer some floor-spacing, a sense for how to find space for duck-ins and basket cuts when working alongside ball-dominating teammates, etc. — have made him a valuable and versatile tool for the Rockets over the past couple of months, offering the kind of contributions on both ends of the floor that have helped Houston stay in the hunt for the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference. They enter Friday's action at 46-22, one game behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the second seed.
[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]
In Jones' absence, McHale will likely turn back to Dorsey — a stout interior defender and rebounder, but a far more limited player on the offensive end — in the interest of keeping Smith in the reserve role in which he's flourished as a secondary playmaker after flaming out with the Detroit Pistons. And with the Rockets already devoting two starting slots to the defense-first Beverley and Ariza, and Motiejunas beginning to look a bit shakier as an offensive contributor of late — 3-for-10 from the field in 37 minutes on Thursday, just 41.4 percent from the floor and 48.3 percent from the foul line over his last 10 games — Houston's offense could find itself slipping over the next week, which will include matchups with three teams fighting for their postseason lives (Phoenix, Indiana, New Orleans) and a meeting with Ariza's former club, the Washington Wizards, who boast the league's No. 4 defense.
The return of Howard, which apparently could come any day now, could alleviate those issues to some degree. It's also possible — and, considering the nature of the injury, hopeful — that a partially punctured lung isn't quite as horrific as it sounds, and that Jones' re-evaluation next week results in him being closer to a return to the court than we anticipate. ("A lengthier time off seems probable," writes athletic trainer and In Street Clothes proprietor Jeff Stotts.)
But if Jones' shelving extends beyond the next couple of weeks and Howard struggles to reacclimate himself after his long layoff, the Rockets' offense could wind up relying to an even greater degree — if that's even possible — on Harden's capacity to generate buckets off the bounce and at the charity stripe. Thursday night might have seen the first 50-point performance of Harden's career, but more outsized scoring games could be coming very soon.
- - - - - - -