Rockets’ Paul will miss reunion game vs. Clippers

HOUSTON — Chris Paul’s highly anticipated meeting with his former Los Angeles Clippers teammates will have to wait.

The former Clippers star will not be in uniform Friday when his new team, the Houston Rockets, host the Clippers at Toyota Center. Paul sustained a strained left adductor against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday and was ruled out for the Friday game.

The Rockets also are expected to again be without Luc Mbah a Moute (dislocated shoulder) and Clint Capela (bruised heel), leaving them short-handed against a Clippers club that is Blake Griffin (sprained knee), Danilo Gallinari (torn glute) and Patrick Beverley (knee surgery).

This is Paul’s second injury this season. He missed a month with a knee injury sustained in the opener.

Paul has averaged 17.1 points, 9.0 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 steals in 16 games — the first 15 of them wins before a 122-116 loss to the Lakers on Wednesday. His next chance to face his old team comes Jan. 15 in Los Angeles.

Before losing to the Lakers, the Rockets (25-5) had won 14 consecutive games. But they have missed their injured players.

Houston kept on winning even as the defense began to lag — until Wednesday night when, hamstrung by the absences of Mbah a Moute and Capela and the loss of Paul, the defense collapsed fully.

What the Lakers managed in their victory was a scoring display that proved the Rockets aren’t quite where they were defensively.

“It’s always a concern on defense. Even when we win, it’s still a concern on defense,” Rockets forward P.J. Tucker said. “So, that’s always something that we talk about, even on nights where it may look good and we win by 20. Our defense still may not be that good, so that’s something we always address whether we win or lose.”

The Rockets’ 14-game winning streak masked their defensive warts. Over the past seven games, Houston has posted a defensive rating of 109.4, a mark that ranks just 24th in the NBA in that span. Mbah a Moute, a versatile perimeter defender, has missed four of those games while Capela, the Rockets’ best rim protector, sat Wednesday for the second time in three games. Their absences matter.

The Rockets have slipped into the habit of relying on their elite offense to bail them out of early deficits instead of defending with vigor from the opening tip. With a short-handed roster, Houston must mask its injuries with consistent commitment on defense.

“We’ve got to pick up our intensity at the beginning and get through this little stretch of a lot of games in a row with people out,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said after the Wednesday game. “It’s a loss. We’ll take it and start another streak on Friday.”

The Clippers (12-18) snapped a three-game skid with a 108-95 win over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night. They improved to 5-2 with Milos Teodosic, who recorded a season-high eight assists in the victory, in their lineup. However, the Clippers’ injury woes are not completely behind them.

Gallinari went back on the shelf and is expected to be sidelined for at least two weeks. He has played in just 11 games this season. Gallinari reclaimed a seat on the bench alongside guard Beverley, who is out for the season, and Griffin, who has missed 11 games with a sprained left MCL.

“If anybody is used to it, it’s our team,” Clippers guard Austin Rivers said of the injuries. “We don’t even look to see who’s playing; we just go play. I don’t even know who’s playing until we’re out (on the court) and we do a lineup and it’s like, ‘Who’s out here with me tonight?’ That’s just the situation that it is. Once you stop paying attention to it and just focus on hooping, it’s just easier.”