When Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul suffered a hamstring injury on December 20 against the Miami Heat, the concern was high for reasons behind just his absence. The Rockets sat at 16-15 following a loss that night, and in a crowded Western Conference, had a lot of work to do with a very shorthanded roster moving forward. Fortunately, James Harden’s stellar play has pushed the team to 27-20 as the All-Star break approaches.
But there’s better news also, as the Rockets are expected to get Paul back in the lineup sooner than later. His original timeline set him up for a mid-January return, while head coach Mike D’Antoni and company had a tentative target date which landed roughly around that.
As ESPN’s Tim MacMahon revealed, Friday’s game against the Toronto Raptors was the date circled for Paul’s potential return. The veteran guard entered the day with a questionable tag prior to the nationally-televised matchup. But shortly after that came to light on Thursday, a different report pointed to Paul’s timeline for return being pushed back just a bit.
Chris Paul’s Return Not Coming Friday
While the team pinpointed Friday’s matchup with the Raptors, The Athletic’s Kellly Iko reported that Paul’s return will likely come a bit later. Iko cited either Sunday against the Orlando Magic or Tuesday against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Hours ahead of the Rockets’ game Friday, Mark Berman of Fox 26 revealed D’Antoni ruled Paul out, citing that he would have played if it were a playoff game.
This isn’t all that surprising, especially if the team opts to play it safe with Paul (they should, and will). While the Rockets obviously need the depth, especially with the injury to center Clint Capela, rushing Paul back into action and potentially increasing the risk of even a small setback isn’t worth it.
Mike D’Antoni Points to Paul’s Return vs. Magic
For good measure, it didn’t take long Friday for Paul’s potential return to be marked for Sunday against the Magic. As D’Antoni revealed in the morning ahead of the Raptors matchup, the guard’s return looks more likely to come over the weekend, per The Athletic’s Alykhan Bijani.
The fact Paul is slightly behind the date scheduled tentatively for his return isn’t a big deal. There’s a good chance that D’Antoni and the medical staff simply want to play it safe with him and make sure that he’s as close to 100 percent in an effort to eliminate as much risk as possible.
Even still, the 33-year-old only finds himself days behind schedule, not weeks, which is a positive. Through the first 26 games he played this season, Paul averaged 15.6 points with 8.0 assists in 33.2 minutes per game. These numbers mark some of the lowest in his career, with his current scoring average coming in as a career-low.