Chandler Parsons' Calf Injury Puts Houston Rockets' Playoff Seeding in Jeopardy

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistApril 5, 2013

April 03, 2013; Sacramento, CA, USA; Houston Rockets small forward Chandler Parsons (25) reacts during a free-throw by the Sacramento Kings during the fourth quarter at Sleep Train Arena. The Houston Rockets defeated the Sacramento Kings 112-102. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Chandler Parsons may not get the mainstream recognition of James Harden or Jeremy Lin, but the Houston Rockets are about to find out what it's like to miss something once it's gone.

Hurt late in Wednesday night's 112-102 victory over the Sacramento Kings, the Rockets forward has been diagnosed with a strained calf. Perhaps more disconcertingly, Parsons will miss Friday night's nationally televised clash with the Portland Trail Blazers, per the Rockets' Twitter feed:

Nothing points to this being a major injury for Parsons. He was hurt late in a game where he played 40 minutes, scored a game-high 29 points and looked fully like the player who Houston fans have come to love in 2012-13. 

One of the game's most undervalued players (outside the Houston area) and arguably its most underpaid, Parsons has been sensational in his second NBA season. The 24-year-old is a perfect fit for Houston's run-and-gun system, both a knockdown three-point shooter in spot-up situations and an underrated athlete on the break.

Parsons is averaging 15.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Those are nice numbers—especially for a second-round pick with less than 200 games of NBA experience. But what Parsons means to the Rockets' offense is more critical than any counting stat.

This season, Parsons is using—where "using" means a possession ending in a field-goal attempt, turnover or free throws—38.1 percent of his possessions as a spot-up shooter, per Synergy Sports. He represents right around a quarter of those attempts for Houston, which predicates a high volume of its shot attempts from spot-up situations.

Also salient is Parsons' excellence in transition. He scores 1.2 points per possession and shoots over 60 percent in transition, per Synergy Sports. Parsons is also surprisingly strong at defending pick-and-roll ball-handlers, one of the few facets of NBA defense this Rockets team actually grasps. 

In short, every area where the Rockets excel, Parsons is a big reason. 

Losing Parsons isn't on the level of Harden—but it isn't as far away as most assume. Especially if Delfino's illness keeps him on the sidelines, Houston could be without two of its best shooters in the open court. 

If this were January, that wouldn't be a problem. Everyone would shrug and go back to eating their barbecue in the great state of Texas. Chances are, Parsons could miss this weekend and return healthy by next Tuesday's game against the Phoenix Suns. What could missing a couple games hurt?

Well...everything if you're concerned with the Rockets getting past the first round.

Heading into Friday night's action, Houston is one game behind the Golden State Warriors for the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. The Rockets hold the tiebreaker by virtue of their 3-1 head-to-head record, meaning they would simply need to outperform the Warriors by one game down the stretch. That's doable with neither side having an especially strong schedule advantage. 

Unfortunately for the Rockets, Parsons missing this weekend could put their playoff viability on life support.

The No. 7 seed comes with a first-round tilt against either the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder, two monoliths who are likely on a collision course to repeat last season's Western Conference finals. MVP candidates Kevin Durant and Tony Parker have turned in the best years of their careers, Tim Duncan is having a late-career renaissance and Russell Westbrook has made massive strides.

The Thunder and Spurs aren't losing—especially not to Houston. However, the No. 6 seed comes with a possible matchup against a trio of teams with very noticeable flaws. 

The Nuggets, who have become one of the NBA's best teams since the All-Star break, were dealt a blow that may prove fatal when Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL on Thursday (USA Today). Gallinari was one of a select few floor-spacers on a team that has made nearly 400 more field goals in the restricted area than any other team. The Nuggets were reliant on Gallinari—a very good spot-up shooter—to keep floor spacing. Without him, Ty Lawson and Wilson Chandler are the team's only remotely solid outside options.

The Grizzlies have played .700 basketball since the Rudy Gay trade and have become increasingly comfortable running the offense through Marc Gasol on the high post. They have scored 104 points per 100 possessions since the Gay trade, which represents a nearly four-point increase from before the trade and would rank just outside the top 10 for the year. But Memphis' spacing remains an utter mess, a problem that will only get exacerbated in the floor-cramped postseason style.

As for the Clippers? They have the talent to compete for a title. They are also undisciplined defensively, have no crunch-time offense to speak of other than "here, hand it to Chris Paul" and have cratered on both ends lately. 

All of the potential No. 3 seeds could make noise in the postseason.

That said, they're all very flawed as well and at the very least represent a possible upset for Houston. The Rockets matchup worst with Denver, as Omer Asik remains their only elite interior defender. But if the Nuggets fall out of the No. 3 seed after Gallinari's injury, Houston has a puncher's chance against the Clippers and Grizzlies—two teams who have combined to outscore the Rockets by only 10 points this year. 

Nevertheless, all signs point to Houston heading for a first-round exit. The Rockets have a combined 4-12 record against the Western Conference's top-five teams, with a losing record against each representative. The only winning record they possess against Western Conference playoff teams come against those who surround them—the Warriors and Lakers.

It's unlikely that the Rockets having the sixth or seventh seed will change anything on the championship picture. And that's OK. No one ever expected this team to compete for a playoff spot in 2012-13—not even after the Harden trade. Bowing out in the first round bears no shame in Houston. This is a team so young that it might not even be green behind the ears yet; they'll be back.

At the very least, though, the No. 6 seed gives hope that the Rockets could stretch a series to six or seven games. That gives the fans a show and majority owner Leslie Alexander a couple extra million dollars in revenue.

Those sound like moral victories, which they are. But the Rockets have been playing with house money all season, and anything other than a sweep bodes well for their future. 

Parsons being out puts that pipe dream very much in jeopardy. After Friday's clash in Portland, the Rockets go to Denver on Saturday, a game one assumes Parsons will sit out. Golden State has a very winnable game against Phoenix on Friday before traveling back home to take on Utah.

It's three nights, just two games. A minuscule sample size over the NBA's massive 82-game season. But come Monday, it's very possible that the Rockets are three games behind Golden State—a nearly insurmountable deficit with five games remaining. 

And if that's the case, Parsons' calf injury probably won't register on the first five reasons why Houston wound up the No. 7 seed. But it should be at the top.