HOUSTON — For a brief moment in time all was right with the Houston Rockets health-wise.
Their primary nine-man rotation was available, functioning, and providing coach Mike D’Antoni a clear picture of what he’d have to work with the remainder of the season and into the playoffs.
But for the Rockets, optimal health remains fleeting heading into Tuesday’s matchup with the Orlando Magic at Toyota Center.
On Sunday, just four games after Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green returned from suspension and made them whole again, the Rockets lost Ariza to a left hamstring strain just one minute into their 113-102 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
The Rockets (35-13) announced on Monday that Ariza will miss at least five games. Ariza, who leads the team in minutes (1,538), will be unavailable on the Rockets’ subsequent four-game road trip.
The potential exists for Houston to also be without point guard Chris Paul, who is listed as questionable against the Magic with right groin soreness. After departing early in the fourth quarter against the Suns and spending the remainder of the game receiving treatment, Paul repeatedly declared himself fit when pressed by the media about his availability.
Houston, however, will take a more cautious approach with Paul, who has missed 17 games this season.
Ariza and Paul, along with guards James Harden and Eric Gordon and center Clint Capela, have missed a combined 35 games while the Rockets? starting lineup, with forward Ryan Anderson included, has started just 17 games together. The Rockets own the second-best record in the NBA despite this, but the revolving door of injuries make maintaining consistency a chore.
“We can’t get our roster for two or three games in a row,” Harden said. “But we’re not going to complain, we’re just going to figure it out and just get to the (All-Star Game) break.”
When Luc Mbah a Moute and Ariza returned to the fold, Green lost his spot in the rotation. Now that Ariza is on the shelf, opportunity will knock once again for Green to make an impact.
“I know my number might be called so I’ve got to go out there and prepare like I’m going to play a lot, and be ready for when Trevor gets back,” Green said. “We’re professional.”
For Orlando (14-34), ineffective defense continues to undermine any positive momentum. Including a 114-112 loss at Indiana on Saturday, the 10th defeat in 12 games, the Magic rank 27th in defensive rating at 108.7. During the last dozen games, that efficiency stands at 112, with only the Suns (112.2) and Cleveland Cavaliers (112.7) allowing points at a greater clip.
“We’ll keep hammering it and we’ll keep working to get better at it,” Magic coach Frank Vogel said.
Injury concerns haven’t helped, with Orlando dealing with maladies both in the long term (Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross, Jonathan Isaac) and short term.
Forward Aaron Gordon, who leads the team in scoring averaging 18.4 points, did not practice on Monday and is questionable with a left hip flexor. Guard Evan Fournier, second to Gordon in scoring at 18.2 points, rolled an ankle against Indiana yet practiced without incident and should be available against Houston.