Oladipo’s misstep, Cousins force another lineup juggle
For most of three days of practices, the Rockets thought they would return to Toyota Center on Monday close to full strength. Once again, the only thing that changed was their lineup.
Guard Victor Oladipo, who was optimistic he would play after missing three games with a strained right foot, stepped on the foot of teammate Rodions Kurucs, forcing him to sit out Monday’s game against the Bulls.
While that was a “setback” the Rockets could not anticipate, they were also limited by having center DeMarcus Cousins ruled out with a sore right heel. With that they used their 17th starting lineup in 29 games, the 10th consecutive game they have had a different lineup from the previous game.
“(Oladipo) was very limited at shootaround,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “Hopefully, he’ll be able to come back sooner than later. He stepped on Rodi’s foot and I didn’t think it was that bad. Obviously, it’s bad enough for him not to be able to play tonight.”
The Rockets started P.J. Tucker at center with Jae’Sean Tate and Danuel House Jr. in the frontcourt, John Wall and Eric Gordon in the backcourt.
Silas said most of his considerations about the starting lineup related to the rotation that would follow, including who to start at small forward with Tate moving over to power forward, and how that would impact his bench. He did weigh starting Justin Patton to keep the bench roughly as it has been since Cousins has started with Christian Wood out.
“There’s definitely value to it,” Silas said of starting a center to keep the bench rotation intact. “The whole figuring that part out is
really a game-by-game thing. I thought Cuz was going to start tonight. I thought Vic was going to be fine to play tonight. So, here we go. I believe this is the first time we actually started small.
“If I’m a player, I want to know when I’m going in the game, approximately how much I’m going to play and who I’m going to be playing with. That has been an issue and a struggle just because the injury bug has hit us so hard this year.”
Patton aims to fill role at center
Opportunity does not necessarily come often, but Justin Patton had enough time in the NBA to recognize it when it arrived. Even before he spent the weekend cramming for his next NBA test, he knew that he has his chance.
The Rockets’ need at center was pressing and obvious, with Christian Wood out and not expected to return anytime soon, and DeMarcus Cousins out with a sore right heel as the Rockets and his representatives look for options to deal or release him.
The Rockets sought to stop-gap the hole, first
with the addition of Ray Spalding and then, after Spalding was hurt, with the signing of Patton to a two-way contract on Friday. With two games postponed in the wake of last week’s winter’s storms, Patton had his chance to get ready for what could be his next audition, playing for a team that could need him to play as much as he has needed a chance to demonstrate he can.
“It’s a huge opportunity, especially with my past in the league,” Patton said. “I get to play so I’m just happy about that. It’s going to be fun. It’s basketball. I’m going to go out there … and fight for every opportunity I got for every second out there. I’m going to play hard and bring the energy.”
Patton, the 16th selection in the 2017 NBA draft out of Creighton, has been with the Timberwolves, 76ers and Thunder since, but had his career stalled when he broke bones in each foot before each of his first two NBA seasons. He played in just nine NBA games in his three seasons. In 83 career G League games, Patton, 23, has averaged 11.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and two blocked shots.
With Wood out and Cousins potentially on his way out, the Rockets could use whatever help the 6-11, 241-pound Patton can bring.
“I’m part of the new regime of bigs as far as being able to space the floor,” Patton said. “Obviously, I bring a huge defensive presence. I feel part of our generation is getting away from the defensive side of the ball so … that intensity, that communication is what I feel like I can bring to the team.
“I’m just coming in and doing my job, rebounding, defense and making sure I’m rolling. Whatever they ask me, I’ll do. I’m a pro. Whatever I see, whatever job is out there, I’m going to do, whether it’s diving on the floor, waving a towel, being help at the rim, all that stuff I’m going to do.”
The break in the Rockets’ schedule after a pair of games was postponed offered a greater chance to prepare than when players normally are called up from the G League.
“He’s been here for the practices,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “I’ve watched individual film with him. He’s worked with the coaches. He knows kind of what we’re doing. To me, starting vs. not starting doesn’t make much of a difference. It is (about) is he prepared to play. And he is prepared to play. We’ve done a lot of work with him. He’s picked things up very quickly.”
He already had an idea of how he could contribute now that he was certain to have that chance.
“I’m looking to bring energy,” Patton said. “On the defensive side of the ball, just control the paint. And then be a dynamic roller.”
The Rockets could use all that nearly as much as he needed a chance to bring it.