In yet another blow to a Houston Rockets team that is already without four of its top seven rotational players from last year’s run to Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, center Clint Capela suffered a right thumb injury that will cost him four to six weeks, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Capela had an MRI on Monday that revealed ligament damage in the thumb, Wojnarowski reported.
After losing wings Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to free agency this past summer, the Rockets are also without the injured Chris Paul (hamstring) and Eric Gordon (knee). Paul has not played since Dec. 20. He recently increased his rehab workload, but is still weeks away from a return. Gordon, who has also not played since Dec. 29, remains day to day with a right knee contusion.
Capela suffered the injury on a third-quarter alley-oop and played 12 more minutes in Sunday’s loss to the Orlando Magic, finishing with 17 points and 10 rebounds. X-rays in Orlando were inconclusive, per the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen, but Capela did not initially fear any significant injury.
“As I was going up for the lob, I got hit in the hand,” he told Feigen. “We’re going to see what is it when we go back home. It’s just sore right now. We can’t really see anything yet. We’ll see what happens.”
While recent additions Danuel House Jr. and Austin Rivers have helped fill the voids left by Paul and Gordon, Capela’s injury may be even more difficult to overcome. The Rockets will now rely more heavily on backup bigs Nene Hilario and Isaiah Hartenstein, as well as smaller lineups with P.J. Tucker playing center. There is only so much strain a roster can take, and there is a chance this breaks it.
James Harden has carried an incredible offensive load in the absence of Paul and Gordon, and his MVP candidacy has soared as a result. Harden has averaged 40.6 points and 9.8 assists per game since Paul went down, leading the Rockets to an 8-3 record that has lifted them into the West’s sixth seed. But Capela’s injury takes away Harden’s top pick-and-roll partner as well as his safety net on defense.
The Rockets had a dreadful 11-14 start to the season, largely because their switch-heavy defense took a massive hit with the departures of Ariza and LRMAM. The return of defensive coordinator Jeff Bzdelik has helped the defense improve over the past month, but the Rockets still rank among the league’s five worst teams in that regard, and losing Capela’s athleticism will do nothing to help course correct.
The question now is whether Harden can continue carrying this load and if the Rockets can tread water in the West until Capela returns. Their overtime victory against the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 3 showed they may still be the conference’s best bet to unseat the two-time defending champions, but we have to begin to wonder if Houston can get to the playoffs. They are now 24-18, within two games of the third seed and also just two games better than the ninth-place Utah Jazz.
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