The Houston Rockets' chance of getting a Top-4 seed in the Western Conference is in jeopardy with the news that star center Dwight Howard could miss at least a month. How does that injury affect Houston's futures odds at sportsbooks going forward?
Lot of Knee/Foot Stress for Big Guys
Human beings probably aren't supposed to be as big as Howard while also running up-and-down a hardwood court for dozens of miles a week. Just ask former Houston center Yao Ming, who had to retire early because of chronic foot problems. Howard has swelling in his right knee and right now is mulling his recovery options. For now it will just be rest that is "likely measured in weeks," according to ESPN.com sources.
This is the second time Howard will miss several games with a problem in that knee. He missed 11 games in December with a strained knee, undergoing platelet-rich plasma therapy then, and has missed 16 games in all this season. The Rockets are 11-5 without him. Howard has missed four games in this stretch because of the problem. The Rockets beat bad teams the Lakers and Celtics, plus a pretty good team Dallas. However, Howard clearly was missed on Saturday in a 114-101 in Detroit. The Pistons shot 50 percent from the field with big men Andre Drummond (16) and Greg Monroe (12) combining for 28 rebounds in dominating down low.
It's on defense and on the boards where Howard does his best work. He is averaging 16.3 points, his lowest since the 2005-06 season. Howard is pulling down 11.0 rebounds per game (a good number but his lowest since 2004-05) and blocking 1.4 shots a night (lowest since '05-06). The Rockets rank only 12th in points allowed but third in defensive efficiency, allowing 99.5 points per 100 possessions. Just Golden State and Milwaukee are better.
See You in March?
Houston enters play Tuesday with a 33-15 mark that is third in the ultra-deep West but three games behind Memphis for the Southwest Division lead. One good reason to sit Howard now is that part of the time he will be missing will be taken up by the All-Star Break. Houston has eight days off for the break, with its last game on Feb. 11 and then first after the break on Feb. 20. If Howard sits out the entire month of February he would miss 10 more games. The Rockets are next in action Wednesday at home against Chicago as 3-point favorites on NBA odds.
Also on the bright side for Houston is that the team was able to acquire Josh Smith off waivers back in December from Detroit and he brings size and shot-blocking. In addition, power forward Terrence Jones just recently returned after missing nearly three months with a leg injury. Houston also has bigs like Donatas Motiejunas and Joey Dorsey to help replace Howard's minutes and production. When Howard was out earlier this season, rookie Tarik Black largely took his spot. However, Black was cut when the Rockets signed Smith. The Rockets did keep their defensive rating under 100 points per 100 possessions in that first 11-game absence for Howard, and they appear even better-suited for it now.
The upcoming schedule could be rough. After Chicago, here's the rest of February: vs. Milwaukee (Feb. 6), vs. Portland (Feb. 8), at Phoenix (Feb. 10), at LA Clippers (Feb. 11), at Dallas (Feb. 20), vs. Toronto (Feb. 21), vs. Minnesota (Feb. 23), vs. LA Clippers (Feb. 25), vs. Brooklyn (Feb. 27). All but the Timberwolves and Nets have winning records. Houston is just 10-12 this season against teams with a record of.500 or better and 23-3 against clubs with a losing mark. I think the team would take a 5-5 mark the rest of this month and then hope Howard returns. That shouldn't drop Houston too far in the West standings.
NBA Free Picks: I don't believe this should affect Houston's odds to win the West, currently +1000 at sportsbooks, or NBA title, currently +2200 on NBA odds. I do think it makes winning the Northwest Division a long shot. The Rockets are currently +350 for that with the Spurs, behind Memphis at even money