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- A pair of the Rockets starters will return to the lineup tonight against the Pelicans, as Patrick Beverley (knee) and Dwight Howard (ankle) are both ready to play after missing the last eight games. But it’s not all good news for Houston on the injury front. Chandler Parsons will sit out with a sore wrist and hip, and Francisco Garcia will be unavailable due to a sore back. Fifth-year forward Omri Casspi will start in Parsons’ absence. “We’ll see how they play, because you can’t replicate playing,” coach Kevin McHale said. “[Beverley and Howard] have done everything they can now, so we have to get them on the floor and see how they feel. … The playoffs start a week from today or tomorrow, so we don’t have a lot of time for those guys to get a little extra conditioning in.”
- The Rockets’ health concerns pale in comparison to the depleted Pelicans, who added another name to their lengthy injury list during Friday’s loss at Oklahoma City. Brian Roberts (ankle) will miss tonight’s contest, while Anthony Davis (back), Jrue Holiday (leg), Eric Gordon (knee), Ryan Anderson (back) and Jason Smith (knee) will be sidelined for the remainder of the season. With so many holes in New Orleans’ roster, coach Monty Williams is left with only 10 bodies to choose from and just one healthy player with at least five years of NBA experience. “Well, we need different guys to [provide leadership] with all these different lineups,” Williams said. “We’ve had a tough time, but we’re a no-excuse, no-explanation team. We’ve just got to go out and try to win a game.”
- McHale emphasized the need for his club to display more toughness and put forth a greater effort to defend in transition and force opponents to play against a set defense. McHale’s criticism comes as no surprise, considering Houston has allowed its last three opponents to sprint past it for an average of 34.3 fast-break points. “It’s just simple defensive transition,” McHale said. “Last night, [Minnesota] must have had 25 layups. … Guys are just really playing badly and not playing smart at all. They’re making bad play after bad play in transition. … If you put that [type of] effort in, you’re going to lose.”
- Despite their struggles in April, the Rockets (52-27) are still on the inside track to fourth place in the Western Conference and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. A victory over the Pelicans (32-47) would leave Houston one win or one Portland loss shy of ensuring that it opens the playoffs at Toyota Center, where the Rockets have won five in a row against New Orleans and are 18-3 in 2014.
– Matt Miller