It's been a popular refrain. All through the summer and into the Rockets preseason, the phrase has been repeated over and over by fans, member of the media and even the team's owner: just a hamstring away from the Finals.
When Chris Paul went down with an injury in the Western Conference Finals, the Rockets were in position to beat one of the best teams of all time in the Warriors. They were leading and in command. But, without their second marquee star, they could not finish and spent the summer thinking about their point guard's health.
Paul is fine now, but when Clint Capela banged his hand on the head of another player this past week, the team feared the worst. A broken hand could have sidelined him for weeks or even months. Instead, the report came back: hand contusion. The sigh of relief was almost audible.
This is what we should expect this season. For all the talent this team possesses, all the experience they have acquired from previous postseasons, they can ill afford a serious injury to one of their best players. Of course, no team can. Attrition is the enemy of every team in every league. Ask the Spurs who saw their young guard Dejounte Murray fall to a torn ACL this week.
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For the Rockets, that will mean taking extreme caution with any hint of a problem. Paul missed the first month of last season, more than he probably needed, to rehab a knee injury. All the Rockets did in his absence is rack up win after win. But, when he was in the lineup with Capela and James Harden, they were nearly unbeatable.
As a result, expect plenty of rest for guys with nagging injuries this season. And why not? The NBA is such that on most nights, the Rockets will have substantially more talent available to them than their opponent. There will be nights when they won't need their best guys.
Additionally, with the way they are going to jack up threes, some nights they will blow teams out of the gym so early, their guys will get plenty of rest in the fourth quarter. It wouldn't be a shock to seem them lead the league in point differential this season as they did last year.
Bottom line is injuries will be their most difficult opponent this year. Anything they can do to guard against them will keep them from being "just a hamstring away from the Finals" come June.