The Houston Rockets have done well without Dwight Howard during his various absences this season, though signs of trouble to come bubbled up in their most recent defeat.
As they prepare to be without their center for the foreseeable future, the Rockets may again face interior struggles Wednesday night against Pau Gasol and the Chicago Bulls.
Howard has been dealing with knee trouble most of the season, and the Rockets said Wednesday that he received a bone marrow injection in his right knee. He will be re-evaluated in approximately four weeks, but the team did not offer a time for him to return to playing.
Houston (33-15) is 11-5 in games he’s missed and won three straight in his absence Jan. 23-28.
That streak came to an abrupt halt Saturday in a 114-101 loss at Detroit in which Pistons big men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond combined for 30 points and 28 rebounds.
Chicago (30-19) does not boast as formidable a front line, but the duo of Gasol and Joakim Noah should still cause problems for Houston. Gasol, who has earned his first All-Star selection since 2011, has averaged 15.4 points and 14.7 rebounds in his last nine games, while Noah has averaged 10.8 rebounds in five games since returning from injury.
To help stop the Bulls’ inside presence, the Rockets will turn to Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones, Josh Smith and Joey Dorsey.
“Our four bigs, D-Mo, T.J. and Josh and Joe are going to have to hold down the court,” coach Kevin McHale told Houston’s official website. “They’re going to have to rebound and they’re going to have to defend and we’re going to have to be better as a team just to get by this stretch until Dwight comes back.”
Motiejunas has started 39 games this season and averaged 16.3 points and 6.1 rebounds, while Smith had averaged 14.5 points in the four games prior to Saturday’s defeat.
Dorsey has started the last four in Howard’s place but has managed only 11 total points, and Jones hasn’t logged more than 22 minutes since returning from injury Jan. 28.
“They’re all going to have to step up and play well,” McHale said.
James Harden continues to pace the Rockets’ offense regardless of Howard’s status. He leads the NBA with 27.0 points per game, though he was held to 20 in the most recent meeting with Chicago — a 114-105 loss in the Windy City on Jan. 5.
Gasol scored 27 in that victory and Jimmy Butler added 22.
Butler, who also was named an Eastern Conference All-Star, has continued his breakout season with 57 points over the last two games, though the Bulls dropped both.
Chicago has lost nine of 14 after Friday’s 99-93 defeat in Phoenix. The recent struggles have coincided with the absence of Mike Dunleavy, who has been sidelined since Jan. 3 with an ankle injury.
“They’ve (the reserves) got to play better,” coach Tom Thibodeau told Chicago’s official site. “Part of it is with Mike being out we are moving more guys around, so they’ve lost a little bit of their continuity. But there are things they can do a lot better that they are not doing now that we have to correct.”
The Bulls have lost on their last two trips to Houston, most recently with a 109-94 defeat Dec. 18, 2013.