It only took 59 games. For the previous 58 games of the season, something was missing. More to the point someone was missing. Before Monday night's win against the Atlanta Hawks (a game they needed to win), the Rockets did not play a single game without at least one player missing with an injury.
And it isn't as if the names on the injured list this season have mainly been role players. Chris Paul, Clint Capela, James Harden and Eric Gordon, four of their starting five much of the year, have missed time. In fact, only PJ Tucker has played in every game for the Rockets this season.
Certainly, all teams deal with injury, but few really good teams have had to deal with the kind of injury issues the Rockets have had. Still, there have been none of the major, season-ending problems that have hurt teams throughout the NBA, but in some ways, the mixture of lesser aches and pains has created a different issue for the Rockets: inconsistency.
There have been maddening losses all season and plenty of surprising wins, like the Harden-less victory at Golden State on Saturday night. The up and down, win and loss nature of the last month-and-a-half has been particularly indicative of that inconsistency.
And while it may be devastating to lose a key player for any stretch of time, the occasional missed games from any player makes it difficult to establish any kind of a rhythm. Add to that the Rockets struggles to fill their roster in the first place after a mistake-filled offseason and additions of critical role players like Austin Rivers and Kenneth Faried midseason and it is easy to understand why inconsistencies have plagued the Rockets even with Harden's incredible, MVP-level play.
In fact, it is precisely those injuries which have propelled Harden to his record-breaking streak of 30-point games, which ended Monday night at 32 after Harden managed "only" 28 points on a rough shooting night. Even he has admitted he would prefer not to need to score as much, but without his best guy on the floor, he has done what was necessary.
Now, with a full complement of players going forward — hopefully, for the entirety of the remaining 23 games — there should be no reason the Rockets cannot find the chemistry they have lacked at times throughout the season. Maybe just in time for the playoffs.
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