James Harden Injury: Rockets Must Be Careful with Star's Ankle for Stretch Run

Ethan Grant@DowntownEGAnalyst IMarch 15, 2013

February 12, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) reacts after an injury as point guard Jeremy Lin (7) looks on during the third quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The Rockets defeated the Warriors 116-107. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden is a game-time decision for Friday night's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. If the Rockets are serious about a playoff run, they will make sure the right foot that's been bothering him since Feb. 12 is fully healed before risking further injury.

According to Jason Friedman of NBA.com, the Rockets are taking a cautious approach with Harden for Friday night's game, and coach Kevin McHale acknowledged in a shootaround interview that the team wishes it had more time for Harden to rest his foot:

We’ll see how he feels tonight. James has got a couple things going on in his foot that’s bothering him. We’ve just got to figure out what approach is going to help him maintain at least the amount of healing that needs to take place from here on out. I mean, ideally, you’d say yeah, we take three weeks off, but I don’t think we’re at that point.

The All-Star and new face of the franchise has captivated the city of Houston since coming over from Oklahoma City in an offseason trade. Averaging 26.2 points, 5.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game, Harden is doing a little bit of everything for Houston this season.

He, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik (the three big offseason additions for the Rockets) have the team sitting in the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference. The Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks all have aspirations of climbing the ladder, but recent events have given the Rockets some flexibility when it comes to pushing for a playoff spot.

Those events should force Rockets team doctors, management and coaches to reevaluate this Harden decision and keep the 23-year-old out of the lineup until his foot is closer to 100 percent.

Remember, this is a Rockets team aiming to turn heads in the postseason.

As Kobe Bryant went down on Wednesday night with an ankle injury, the Western Conference playoff race got a little more crowded. The Lakers likely don't make the playoffs without Bryant around and it's looking like the aging star could miss a few games as he recovers from the sprain.

Elsewhere, the Utah Jazz are playing their worst ball of the season, 2-8 in their last 10 games and victim to an epic thrashing by the Thunder earlier this week in one of their worst showings of the 2012-13 campaign.

The Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers are hanging tough and will challenge for the No. 8 seed but both have been plagued by inconsistent play and don't have the best odds at making the postseason in April.

Combine that with stellar play from other stars on the team, and Houston has some room for cushion  while Harden potentially sits.

Mainly, the improved play of former second-round pick Chandler Parsons has proven to be quite beneficial, as the forward is averaging 21.2 points per game on 57.4 percent shooting over his last five contests as he continues to stretch the floor from the three-point line.

Lin, Asik and new addition Thomas Robinson are also capable of keeping the team afloat while Harden rests, and Donatas Motiejunas has also been chipping in on offense at a nice clip to suggest that the Rockets will do just fine for a couple of games without their best player and biggest offensive catalyst.

Granted, Houston doesn't want to lose any ground. At 35-30 (as of March 15), the team is in no position to concede games with the Lakers and Jazz looming and others inching toward a strong push at the end of this month.

They don't want to keep Harden out too long, as McHale suggests because there just isn't enough time to make up for a potential pit-fall at this point in the season. However, with the right time management and selecting games that won't hurt the Rockets for him to miss, Harden will be 100 percent by the time the playoffs begin.

At this point of the season, that should be a top priority for the Rockets going forward.

Priority No. 1 is making the playoffs and No. 2 is making sure Harden is as deadly as can be for a potential first-round matchup with his old squad.