The Houston Rockets emerged from the NBA trade deadline without a regularly playing center on their roster.
And yet they’re on a four-game winning streak since recently dealt big man Clint Capela last played and 5-0 going mainly with a smaller lineup, including Thursday night’s 121-111 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles. Russell Westbrook scored 41 points and the Rockets (33-18) didn’t play anyone taller than 6-foot-7.
The Rockets, as they get set to play the second of a road back-to-back set Friday night against the Phoenix Suns, are certainly a new-look team. But they’re a winning team, and on Thursday were outrebounded only 38-37 by the much taller Lakers while making 19 of 42 3-point attempts.
It stands to reason that not every night will bring the same, but the Rockets are getting the job done with small ball. Newly arrived power forward Robert Covington, who came as part of the Capela trade, scored 14 points with eight rebounds and was a plus-16.
“Pretty straightforward. The best way to play with our stars that we feel is the one that gives us the best chance to win the championship is with a stretch four, playing up-tempo, shooting and wing defenders,” Rockets general manager Daryl Morey told the Houston Chronicle. “Robert Covington was for sure the best one available.”
The Rockets beat the top team in the West, the Lakers, despite giving away five and six inches on defense against Lakers big men JaVale McGee, Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard.
“Each individual has got big hearts,” All-Star James Harden told reporters after the game.
The Suns (20-31) are playing themselves right out of a shot at the No. 8 seed in the West, having lost five of six and four straight games. Phoenix lost at Detroit 116-108 Wednesday night amid speculation that a couple of players could be dealt before the league’s trade deadline.
One was forward Kelly Oubre Jr., who scored 30 points against the Pistons. He ultimately remained a Sun as the deadline passed.
“Just got to go out there and do my job,” Oubre told the Arizona Republic. “Just play basketball. … There’s nothing you can do about it. We’re players in this game and at the end of the day, I can just play and control what I can control. The higher-ups are going to do what they do to help organizations get better, and you just got to deal with what comes with it.”
Center Deandre Ayton had 26 points and 12 rebounds and seems to be finding a rhythm, with at least 20 points and double figure in rebounds in three straight games. Star guard Devin Booker, widely viewed as the most deserving player to be snubbed for the upcoming All-Star Game, added 22 points.
The Suns played without several players normally in their rotation. Guard Tyler Johnson, forward Dario Saric, center Aron Baynes, forward Cam Johnson and forward Frank Kaminsky sat out with injuries at Detroit. All are expected to miss Friday’s game.
The upcoming schedule doesn’t get easier with bonafide playoff contender Houston the first of three straight games against top Western Conference teams. Denver and the Lakers are next.
–Field Level Media