• Joseph Thiel

Nene out for the Remainder of the Playoffs

The Houston Rockets tied their second-round series with the San Antonio Spurs Sunday night with a 125-104 victory turning this matchup into a best of three. James Harden led the Rockets with 28 points and 13 assists while Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs struggled heavily without the services of Tony Parker. Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge combined for just 32 points in the loss and struggled heavily defending against the Rockets’ offense. Despite the Spurs struggles, the worst news came from the Rockets following the victory. Nene tore his left adductor in his thigh and will most likely miss the remainder of the postseason. As valuable as Tony Parker has been to the Spurs, Nene’s absence may be even more detrimental to the Houston Rockets.

Entering his 15th NBA season, Nene joined the Houston Rockets knowing he would primarily be a role player coming off the bench. He was part of the second team off the bench who helped rejuvenate the Rocket offense when Harden would need a rest. His presence inside forced the opposing team to stick someone inside on him instead of having everyone guard the perimeter for the outside shot. It is difficult to say whether they will change their offensive strategy without him in the lineup, but there will be moving pieces regarding their starting five going forward.

After Nene sustained his injury, the Rockets were forced to move starting power forward Ryan Anderson to the bench to break up their big men. Anderson spoke on the transition after the win.

“Coming off the bench is something I've done in my career and I'm fine with it. Whatever I have to do to help the team and whatever's best for this group.”

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if the absence of Nene will affect the Rockets’ offense. With him gone, it now opens more opportunities for Eric Gordon and Lou Williams on the outside. They will now have more chances to take shots on the outside instead of feeling like they must force it inside to Nene. The Rockets’ offense has relied on their transition game heavily this series against the Spurs and this injury to Nene might be a blessing in disguise. Houston can now run a much smaller lineup, but can take as many outside shots as they need as well as get out and run on a fast break opportunity.

Even if I see this as a mismatch for the Rockets to take advantage of, Rockets’ head coach Mike D’ Antoni feels the team will miss Nene throughout the remainder of the series.

“It's all cute and fun when you're dancing around but when it gets down to mudslinging it's nice to have a guy like that in the back alley with you and that's where he's been really good.”

With the Rockets usually only playing eight guys a night during these playoffs, it will be interesting to see where Nene’s minutes get distributed. A name to look out for is Montrezl Harrell. The Rockets must allocate some minutes to someone else on the bench and it looks like Harrell could be that guy. He averaged 9.1 PPG during the regular season as Clint Capela’s backup, but has only played 18 total minutes this postseason. With inexperience as a factor, it is without a doubt a difficult decision in the hands of Mike D’Antoni. The pressure is on as a trip to the Western Conference Finals is on the line with just three games to go.

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