Houston Chronicle

Small ball looks back in play

- Jonathan Feigen

When Jae’Sean Tate got his chance in the NBA, two seasons after he went undrafted out of Ohio State, he likely did not expect to get some of his playing time as a 6-foot-4 center.

Yet, as much as his success has stood out even among the Rockets’ struggles, some of that has come in the middle of their small lineups.

With Christian Wood out and DeMarcus Cousins questionab­le while he and the Rockets look into ways in which he could be moved, the team will likely use more of its center-free, small lineups.

“It’s more on the defensive end. There’s a difference in the personnel you’re guarding,” Tate said. “When I’m at the five (center), I’m undersized, which means I have to do my work early, get to spots earlier, try to be smart about where to be out on the floor because those guys are really big.”

Tate has started at power forward and small forward while filling in at center, a role P.J. Tucker has assumed often in recent seasons, even if he might have thought that had ended last season with the additions of Wood and Cousins.

“I play. It doesn’t really matter, playing forward or center, it’s the same thing,” Tucker said. “I do the same stuff. I’m comfortabl­e with it all. It doesn’t really matter. Whatever coach wants, that’s what I’ll do.”

The Rockets switch so often, Tate and Tucker said their responsibi­lities are not very different when at center. But the overall defense does change.

“I tell guys, when we talk about doing that, it seems like it would be easier to switch everything,” Tucker said. “It’s actually harder, having to come together. The communicat­ion has to be premium. You have to be very physical. It takes a toll. We have guys on this team that are tough enough physically. We’re smart enough to do it.”

Tucker to return after rare absence

No matter how great the Rockets’ injuries issues might have been over the past four seasons, they never reached the point that P.J. Tucker had to miss a game. This season, however, has not been like the others.

When Tucker missed two games last week with a bruised left thigh, they were the first games he had missed with the Rockets, snapping his streak of consecutiv­e games played at 267. He is listed as probable to return on Monday against the Chicago Bulls.

“It was tough,” Tucker, who has played more games than any player since he returned to the NBA in the 2012-13 season. “It was the first time — it was weird — sitting out. I could have pushed through. At the time and circumstan­ce, to take the break would probably be good. But it was tough.

“I’m still battling through it, getting better every day. I’m working, getting better. It’s a day-today thing. I participat­ed in practice the last couple days, a little bit more every day. So, just building it up.”

The Rockets, however, still have other injury issues they had before the season was interrupte­d by last week’s postponeme­nts.

Guard Victor Oladipo, who missed three games with a strained right foot, is listed as doubtful. Center DeMarcus Cousins is questionab­le with a sore right heel.

‘Banged up’ bunch gets healing time

Though the Rockets’ greater injury concerns have centered on the players that have been out, the combinatio­n of absences and compressed schedule had worn on some of those playing, with just one day between games.

That also could make the sudden gap in the schedule after this week’s weather-related postponeme­nts especially valuable.

“Guys are beat up out there,” Rockets guard/ forward David Nwaba said. “I know I’m pretty banged up as well. Little injuries here and there. Ankle (which forced him to miss three games this month) is still bugging from a couple games back. My knee is a little stiff, wrist a little banged up. It’s just little injuries here and there.”

He is far from the only Rockets player that could benefit from the gap in the schedule forced by postponeme­nt of two games because of the fallout from last week’s winter storm.

“Victor ( Oladipo), he did most everything we did today. He sat out one portion of the practice,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “That’s why he is doubtful. We’re still monitoring that.

“For Nwaba to get some time to recover and for John Wall some time to recover and ( Danuel) House ( Jr.), he tweaked his ankle in the last game, so he got some time. Everybody got some time to recover from injuries and hopefully are feeling better as we approach these next six games before the (AllStar) break.”

Jae’Sean Tate, who had soreness in his right ankle that nearly forced him to sit out Wednesday’s game in Philadelph­ia, said he is at full strength.

 ?? Mark Mulligan / Staff photograph­er ?? Devin Booker of the Suns shoots over Jae’Sean Tate (8) and Victor Oladipo of the Rockets, who are using non-centers in front-court positions due to injuries.
Mark Mulligan / Staff photograph­er Devin Booker of the Suns shoots over Jae’Sean Tate (8) and Victor Oladipo of the Rockets, who are using non-centers in front-court positions due to injuries.

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