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News and Notes: January 6, 2014

Rockets' pursuit of consistency continues, but nagging injuries not helping

HOUSTON - The Rockets seemingly perpetual ride aboard the injury roller coaster continued today, as Chandler Parsons and Greg Smith were both forced to cut their practice time short due to knee issues.

Smith, of course, has battled persistent issues in that area ever since spraining his right knee during Houston’s November 14 game against the Knicks. As a result, he’s only played in nine games this season and though this latest setback is not believed to be serious, the Rockets were not in the mood to take any chances when his knee began bothering him again during Monday’s workout.

Parsons’ issue, on the other, hand, is a relatively new ailment. He first sustained the injury during last Thursday’s practice when he collided knee-to-knee with Terrence Jones. At the time, he says he thought so little of it that he didn’t even seek treatment for it afterward, and said he felt minimal discomfort while playing 44 minutes against the Knicks one day later. Yesterday, however, he noticed that the affected area had begun to become increasingly troublesome.

“I came to get some shots up yesterday and was really sore,” Parsons said Monday afternoon. “I got an MRI this morning and it didn’t show anything except that my knees looked really good and there was absolutely nothing wrong with it which is awesome.”

The other good news in all of this is that the Rockets don’t play again until Wednesday, though it’s too early to tell if that will provide enough recovery time for Parsons. Smith hopes to be back in time for tomorrow’s practice, but Parsons said if Houston had a game Monday night there would be no way he would have been able to play. He is hopeful, however, that diligent and aggressive rehab will have him back on the court in time for the Rockets’ Wednesday night date with the Lakers (UPDATE: Neither Parsons nor Smith practiced Tuesday, and both are expected to be game-time decisions Wednesday night).

In other knee-related news, Omer Asik met with the media today to provide an update on the troublesome injury that has sidelined him for the team’s last 16 games. He said he’s feeling better but also expressed his frustration with a healing process that has repeatedly been slowed due to persistent swelling.

“It feels much better,” Asik said Monday. “It’s just frustrating because the MRI shows nothing serious but I couldn’t do anything because of the swelling. It feels much better now. Day by day it gets better.

“I never had pain; it was just the swelling – that was the weird part. The swelling is more down and I feel stronger. I’m just working as hard as I can to get back on the court.”

As for when that return might occur, both Asik and the Rockets admit it’s still too soon to say. What is clearer, however, is the degree to which he is missed. It’s likely no coincidence that with Asik out and Patrick Beverley sidelined due to injury as well, Houston’s defense has slipped of late. The Rockets’ D enjoyed a lengthy stint inside the league’s top-10, but currently sits in a tie for 15th in defensive efficiency – a reality that certainly can at least in part be attributed to the absence of one of the team’s best interior defenders in Asik and perhaps its best perimeter defender in Beverley. 

Filling those holes requires more minutes for Houston’s rotation regulars; a tough task at the best of times, but one made even more demanding given that the Rockets recently put the wraps on a grueling 8-games-in-12-nights stretch. Vince Lombardi famously said “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” In this case, it has combined with a brutal schedule to wreak havoc with Houston’s defense, especially during the fourth quarter when the Rockets are currently conceding 111.6 points per 100 possessions – the second-worst mark in the league in that category.

“With guys having to play a lot of minutes, it’s tough to be on point for 48 minutes,” admitted James Harden. “But we’re doing the best that we can. Guys just have to stay locked in until we get everybody back – then our defense should go to another level.”

In the meantime, Houston’s healthy bodies will continue their dogged pursuit of consistency despite the nagging maladies that continue to sabotage their best efforts. The Rockets’ longest win streak of the season to date is the five-game stretch they had to close out the month of November. December began with a loss to Utah that also doubled as Asik’s last game. It’s been one long roller coaster ride ever since. Suffice to say, the Rockets are ready to hop off.

“I don’t think we’ve had a substantial win streak,” said Jeremy Lin. “We want to work on being consistent and building game after game after game, rather than have such a roller-coaster, up-down, great game-bad game, type season.

“We’ve had bad luck for a while now. I think it will turn around for us. You can’t really control those things and we’re also not the only team with injuries.

“Missing guys like Omer and Pat, two of our best defenders … there’s no question that’s going to hurt, but I don’t think that’s a legitimate excuse for our fourth quarter slippage. Hopefully we learn to communicate earlier, better, louder and be on the same page and then hopefully we can get back to what we’ve shown in stints of what we’re able to accomplish.”