The Houston Rockets, despite a rather uneven first ten games, have a 7-3 record and are tied for third place in the Western Conference. But the combination of a very difficult next ten games and an injury to Eric Gordon threatens that early season success.
On Tuesday, the team announced that Gordon would undergo a medical procedure on his knee and miss four to six weeks. It is not considered a serious or long term issue and the team wants to get it done now, early in the season. Gordon had been struggling with his shot and off to the worst offensive start of his career.
In addition, Danuel House will miss at least one game with a bruised back after taking a hard fall Monday night against the Pelicans. He is expected to return after a single absence, however.
Still, the timing isn't great as the Rockets enter one of the toughest eight-game stretches of the season starting Wednesday against the LA Clippers. That is followed with a difficult travel back-to-back (home versus Indiana and at Minnesota) before a home game against the Trailblazers. Then, a two-game road trip to Denver and Los Angeles, where the Clippers should finally be at full strength with Paul George set to return from offseason surgery later this week. That's followed by a home game against the Heat, who shellacked the Rockets in Miami just over a week ago.
There is a chance the Clippers will be shorthanded on Wednesday. Kawhi Leonard typically rests at least one game of a back-to-back set and the Rockets game is the first half of one such pairing. Given George should return Thursday, the Clips may opt to rest Leonard given the Rockets injury issues as well.
Regardless, it is going to be tough sledding, particularly without Gordon, who is one of coach Mike D'Antoni's most trusted players. D'Antoni prefers to have at least two of hit top three guys (Gordon, Russell Westbrook and James Harden) on the floor at all times. He'll be short of that for at least a month.
This weekend should be especially tough given that Westbrook also rests on the second game of back-to-backs. If there wasn't already pressure on Harden, who is once again leading the league in scoring, it will increase.
The good news is it is early in the season. This is the time to deal with injuries like Gordon's and get players healthy for the heart of the season.
These next eight games will help better determine where this team is right now. After a pretty awful first six games where they were near the bottom of the league defensively, they have managed to pick it up in the last four, raking in the top five defensively in that stretch. Granted, it was against some pretty bad teams, but it's something.
Their three point percentage as a team has also begun to tick in the right direction and there have been positive signs from not just the stars but also key supporting players like Ben McLemore, House and Austin Rivers. It's still super early, the next eight games should offer a good first test even if the team will be short one of their best players.