Thursday 23rd November 2017,
The Hoop Doctors

Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni Admits He Can’t Cap James Harden’s Minutes After Chris Paul Injury

Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni Admits He Can’t Cap James Harden’s Minutes After Chris Paul Injury

James Harden

So much for the Houston Rockets being able to limit James Harden’s minutes.

Part of what made Chris Paul’s arrival so appealing is what it meant for the team’s floor balance. Harden looked gassed by the end of Houston’s second-round loss to the San Antonio Spurs last year. Teaming up with Paul meant he wouldn’t have to shoulder a bulk of the burden for so long. The two could shimmy between on- and off-ball roles beside one another, and head coach Mike D’Antoni wouldn’t ever have to run out lineups that didn’t feature a top-five playmaker.

But then Paul was forced out of the Rockets’ opening-night victory over the Golden State Warriors. And then he didn’t play in their win against the Sacramento Kings. Now, he’s expected to miss at least a couple of weeks, which puts the onus on Harden to once again carry the Rockets without restriction.

From ESPN.com’s Tim MacMahon:

“That’s out the window,” coach Mike D’Antoni said before the Rockets’ 107-91 rout of the Dallas Mavericks in Saturday night’s home opener.

Paul will be sidelined for weeks, maybe as much as a month, due to the bruised knee on the left leg that he dragged around for 33 minutes during his Rockets debut this week. That leaves Demetrius Jackson, who is on a two-way contract, as the backup point guard while general manager Daryl Morey searches for budget-friendly upgrades for that role. Houston will clearly err on the side of caution with Paul, whom the Rockets recruited with May and June in mind, not October and November.

The Rockets, of course, won’t take this loss lying down. As ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Saturday:

Jameer Nelson would have been a perfect addition to this squad, but the Rockets cannot guarantee playing time beyond, say, the next four to six weeks. If they do go outside the organization for help, they’ll likely be limited to bit names—Deron Williams free-agency types.

No matter who they sign or trade for, though, a lion’s share of survival mode will be ferried by Harden. He’s accustomed to being the lifeline at this point. He spent all of last year running as the Rockets’ point guard; he generated more than 40 percent of their total offense when looking at both his assists and made buckets, according to NBA.com. These next few weeks are just a matter of doing the same thing again.

Houston can only hope the load is temporary, because if Paul’s injury is more serious than initially thought, or if he runs into another setback upon return, Harden might find himself overworked once more. And we all know how that played out last year.

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