The Rockets' annual New Year's Eve game turned into a thrilling double-overtime win, the first win in the previous six games for the Rockets against the team who started their losing streak, the Lakers. The 148-142 final delivered a win for a team going through a rough patch, but it came at a cost. Star guard James Harden strained his hamstring and missed the second overtime period. His strain - a grade two - will keep him out for at least two weeks, but up to four. Hamstrings are notorious for lingering and the last thing the Rockets need is Harden dragging his leg around deep into the spring.
If Harden does indeed miss a month of time, as his backcourt mate Chris Paul did earlier this season, it will put a tremendous amount of pressure on the Rockets in the ridiculously difficult Western Conference. Looking at the next month of games, nothing will come easy. Here's what the Rockets are in for assuming Harden returns by January 30.
Home: Golden State
Road: Orlando, Detroit
The first of two games during this monthlong stretch against Golden State is the second half of a back-to-back coming off a game in Orlando. That doesn't exactly make for ideal circumstances. They also face a 20-10 Pistons team that has only lost five games at home this season. Even without Harden and Paul, the Rockets should be able to easily handle the Magic, one of the worst teams in the NBA.
Road: Chicago, Phoenix
The Trailblazers have been steadily improving, but have dropped both games against the Rockets this season. They'll be out for revenge. Fortunately, this week pairs that game with two of the worst teams in the league in the Bulls and the Suns.
Home: Minnesota, Golden State
Road: LA Clippers
Chris Paul's first trip back to LA should be memorable, especially given how the Clips handled the Rockets in the second game of their recent five-game losing streak (which came without Paul in the lineup). But that game is followed by two of the best teams in the Western Conference. Minus Harden, it's tough to see how the Rockets match up offensively with either the Timberwolves or Warriors.
Home: Miami, Phoenix
Away: Dallas, New Orleans
The final week of Harden's absence should be much easier than the first three. The Heat have been surprisingly solid this season in the East, but the Suns and Mavericks are awful and the Pelicans are mediocre. If Harden is back earlier in the week, they could go 4-0 leading into a tough stretch that includes the Spurs and Cavs.
That would be slightly better than .500 (7-6) during Harden's absence and leave them at 33-15. It is tough to imagine them in the second spot in the West with that record, but it should keep them in the top four. It should help that Luc Mbah a Moute is expected to return at some point this month. This is assuming, of course, there are no additional injuries prior to Harden's return.
It will definitely be a tough few weeks, but the excellent record up to this point (the five-game losing streak notwithstanding) has given them a bit of a buffer. They'll need it.