If I didn't know any better, I would think Kevin McHale was giving minutes to players just to develop them even regardless of the outcome (oh, right, he is), but weird rotations and injuries or not, the Rockets keep winning.
In Sacramento Wednesday night, it was a brand-new face and one strange lineup that made an appearance. Terrence Jones, who had been buried either on the bench or in the D-League, came out of nowhere to record career highs in points (14), rebounds (12) and minutes (29). The Rockets opened the second quarter with a lineup of Patrick Beverley, James Anderson, Francisco Garcia, Dontas Montejunas and Jones. And this is a team in a playoff chase with no one injured.
But even with the creative lineup selection by McHale, the team continues to win. Granted, this was against the Kings, but it is the same squad that beat them in Sacramento earlier this season. With Utah getting crushed at Denver, it moves the Rockets' magic number (the number of combined wins and Jazz losses needed to clinch a playoff spot) to four with seven games remaining.
The Rockets beat the Kings in every quarter on Wednesday, but at the half, it was a four-point game. Both James Harden (foot) and Chandler Parsons (food poisoning) made their returns to the lineup and played well. Harden had 21 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds in nearly 40 minutes of action while Parsons led the team with 29 points. Omer Asik had yet another double-double (19 points, 10 boards) and Jeremy Lin contributed one of his own with 15 points and 10 assists.
But it was Jones who stole the spotlight for many fans. After a very good summer and outstanding preseason, Jones seemed to disappear. The rumor has been that Jones's work ethic was not exactly up to NBA standards, so he spent more than his fair share of time with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Recently, he has been on a tear averaging 19 points and 9 rebounds at the D-League affiliate, and his practice habits have improved.
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In Sacramento, Jones was diving after loose balls and snaring eight of his rebounds on the offensive glass, the kinds of hustle plays that will keep him in the coaches' good graces.
While Jones may have deserved a little more time on the floor, the extended minutes appear to be part of McHale's attempt to find a solid power forward rotation going into the playoffs as well as get the young guys some meaningful minutes. It is almost a foregone conclusion that the team will make the postseason, but few believe they will make it out of the first round -- right now, they would be matched up against Western Conference champ Oklahoma City. Oddly, this may be the ideal time to find out if any of these guys can make an impact before rotations tighten and, ultimately, the offseason comes calling.
Like all young players, Jones, Montejunas, Greg Smith and Thomas Robinson have been inconsistent and shown flashes of brilliance. Smith had back-to-back big games but played sparingly Wednesday. Montejunas has been perhaps the most inconsistent of the bunch, mainly because he likes to shoot and hasn't been doing it well lately. Thomas got a DND CD in the win over the team that drafted him and his return to Sacramento.
No doubt McHale would prefer to be playing guys with even a marginally larger amount of experience, like Patrick Patterson, who was traded to Sacramento at the trade deadline. But if the rotation is going to be in flux, may as well give different guys a shot and see who steps up. On Wednesday, it was Jones.