For the second time this season, Dwight Howard of the Houston Rockets is expected to miss an extended period of time. First, it was an 11-game stretch with a strained right knee in November and December. Now, Howard is expected to miss at least a month with an edema in his right knee.
At 33-15 and tied for the third-best record in the Western Conference, the Rockets will have to find a way to replace Howard's 16.3 points, 11 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 32.2 minutes per game.
Luckily for the Rockets, they've weathered the storm without Howard already this season. In the 11 games he missed with the strained right knee in November and December, the Rockets went 8-3. Howard has already missed four games with the current injury, the Rockets have won three of those four games.
Without Howard the Rockets are still one of the best teams in the West, but his services are certainly missed. When Howard is on the court the Rockets have an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 104.3, but when he's on the bench it's just 102.4. They suffer even more defensively. With Howard on the court the Rockets' defensive rating is 97.4, when he's off the court it rises to 101.2. The Rockets dearly miss the defensive prowess of Howard.
James Harden's MVP-caliber season is a big help. And he's stepped it up with Howard out. In the 11-game stretch without Howard in November and December, Howard averaged 29.1 points, 6.1 assists and six rebounds per game.
But it will have to be more than Harden stepping it up in the absence of Howard. It's likely to be big man by committee in Houston.
Donatas Motiejunas played well the last two games, scoring 26 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in a win over the Boston Celtics on Friday and scoring 21 with four rebounds in a loss to the Detroit Pistons on Saturday. The Rockets will need continued production from the 7-footer. Joey Dorsey and Terrence Jones are likely to see more minutes, as well.
The Rockets simply aren't as good of a basketball team when Howard is unavailable. That doesn't mean they're going to drop in Western Conference playoff rankings, though. Harden's incredible season should keep them in the hunt and give Howard plenty of time to recover to full strength. So far, they've proven they can win without Howard, now they just have to prove it some more.
Stats per NBA.com/stats