This time of year for a sure-thing playoff team includes two goals: 1) Do your best to either maintain your current seed, or possibly improve upon it if possible and 2) get healthy for the postseason.
The Rockets currently sit fourth in the West, a game behind the Clippers for third. So while that's within possibility, they may start leaning toward resting key players to ensure good playoff health soon.
Rockets center Dwight Howard said he struggled in the second half on Thursday, his second game back after missing three games following a procedure to remove a cyst and fluid in his left ankle.
“My ankle was bothering me tonight,” Howard said. “I came out a little bit early in the third quarter because of it. We'll see how it feels tomorrow.”
When asked if he might have to miss time, Howard said he does not want to skip any games after missing three when the ankle was drained.
“I don't want to sit out, but the most important thing is that I'm ready for the playoffs,” Howard said.
The Rockets obviously need Howard, but they do have the unique position of having an elite backup behind him. Omer Asik is more than capable of filling in for Howard if the Rockets so choose to shut down their All-Star center a few games.
Howard isn't the only one, though. Patrick Beverley tweaked his right knee against the Clippers, and isn't expected to miss any games. But he will have an MRI just to be sure, and if there's anything other than a light strain, he might sit some as well.
Because again, for the Rockets who have established themselves as a top tier Western team, they just want to have all their parts functioning at their highest level come playoff time. And if that means maybe not pushing for the three-seed, that's a choice they just might have to make.