Injuries rock Houston, force Harden to carry larger load

HOUSTON — The stride that proved so elusive for the Rockets in November has finally fallen into their grasps, with only a constant spate of injuries serving as the remaining disruption.

The Rockets (20-15) have won 9 of 10 games, including four in succession without guard Chris Paul (hamstring). Their resiliency continues to be tested, however, with the latest tribulation unfolding on Saturday when guard Eric Gordon suffered a knee contusion in the Rockets’ 108-104 win at New Orleans.

Gordon has been ruled out for Monday when the Rockets host the Memphis Grizzlies at Toyota Center seeking to extend their homecourt winning streak to nine.

Gordon could return to action later this week, but his shelving will necessitate Austin Rivers, who signed on Christmas Eve, joining the starting lineup plus the recall of Brandon Knight from the G-League.

The Rockets are hopeful that forward James Ennis will return to the rotation after missing nine games with a hamstring injury. Ennis has been listed as questionable.

At some point, the Rockets would prefer to present a fully healthy roster, one capable of utilizing the depth necessary to exploit matchups and provide the starters the rest they need.

“The more bodies you have the better it’s going to be,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We’ll get James Ennis back, Chris back, Eric back. If we can stay that way for a while it’ll be great. And then, obviously, rotations will change, but we’ll have to figure that out.”

Until then, Houston will continue to lean on guard James Harden, whose December output (35.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 7.5 assists) puts him squarely in the Player of the Month discussion. Interestingly, Harden has excelled despite the avalanche of injuries around him, logging a manageable 36.6 minutes over 14 games this month. He averaged 37.1 minutes in November.

The Grizzlies (18-17) continued their December swoon against the Boston Celtics on Saturday, blowing a 19-point, second-half lead in a 112-103 home loss that dropped their record to 5-9 this month. Memphis, once atop the Western Conference standings, has lost 8 of 11 games.

The Grizzlies can link much of their decline to their continued struggles offensively.

Playing at the slowest pace in the league (95.8 possessions per 48 minutes) overall this season, Memphis can’t afford to score inefficiently (27th in offensive rating this month) or fail to rebound (dead last in rebounding percentage in December at 46.1). When the Celtics made the necessary adjustments after falling behind, Memphis struggled to develop a counter to right the ship.

The Rockets lack the Celtics’ defensive reputation, but the Grizzlies are aware of what Houston aims to accomplish defensively and what problems its scheme might pose.

“They’re going to do something similar defensively,” Grizzlies center Marc Gasol said of the Rockets. “They’re going to switch the top and maybe a three-way switch once the roller gets past the free-throw line into the weak side. They’re going to do the same things sort of defensively so we’ll see how we adjust and prepare for that on the offensive side.”