News and Notes: March 22, 2011

Tuesday March 22, 2011 5:33 PM

News And Notes

Injuries force Rockets to reshuffle the deck, seeking more from Patterson and Hill

Jason Friedman

HOUSTON - After a much needed and well deserved day off, the Rockets returned to practice late Tuesday morning, albeit in somewhat shorthanded fashion due to an assortment of logistical issues and minor aches and pains.

With Hasheem Thabeet currently on assignment with the Rockets’ D-League affiliate in Rio Grande Valley, Chase Budinger nursing an injured left ankle and Kevin Martin also unavailable as a result of sinus trouble, the Rockets were forced to make it through practice with only 10 players participating.

Nonetheless, the good news certainly outweighed the bad. For starters, Houston is currently enjoying a 6-day stretch which will see the team play only once, giving any injuries and illnesses ample time to heal. Martin, for that matter, isn’t expected to miss any time anyway. And as for Budinger, the second-year swingman’s ankle appears to be in much better shape than originally anticipated. Though he will almost certainly miss Wednesday’s game against Golden State, the Rockets believe there’s reason to hope he may be able to return in time for the team’s upcoming 3-game road trip to the east coast.

“We’re hoping maybe this weekend,” said Rockets Head Coach Rick Adelman, when asked about Budinger’s possible return to game action. “It’s not nearly as bad as it was before. He says it’s not bad at all. So I would think that tomorrow he won’t be able to go but we’re hoping maybe Sunday in Miami. But if not Sunday, then I would think Tuesday for sure against New Jersey.”

In the meantime, Adelman says he expects Courtney Lee to start at the small forward position in Budinger’s absence. Lee is certainly more than capable of handling the assignment with aplomb and in some way represents a strong fit for facing the Warriors’ somewhat unorthodox attack filled with pace and scoring aplenty from the wings.

But Lee’s inclusion in the starting lineup leaves a void of sorts on Houston’s bench since he is typically Adelman’s sub of choice when Budinger or Martin is ready for a breather. With that in mind, don’t be surprised to see Patrick Patterson get some time at the small forward position Wednesday night in certain situations. The rookie out of the University of Kentucky spent part of Tuesday’s practice session familiarizing himself with that role in anticipation of helping out at the 3-spot should the need arise.

“It feels different,” admitted Patterson after practice. “There’s a lot more running. I have to move my feet guarding on the perimeter, and have to get over screens, chase the ball of curls and screens, so it’s a little but different but over time I can feel more comfortable with it.

“In practice, I’ve fooled around with it a little bit and I’ve had a firsthand view of it from watching Chase and the way the other perimeter players play it. And Coach throughout the year has put me a little bit there at the 3-spot every now and then so… I feel like I’m able to go on the court and at least make some impact (at the small forward position).”

Of late, Patterson has given the Rockets every reason to believe he can do much more than that. The 22-year-old is averaging more than 14 points and 11 rebounds per game over the course of his last three contests, all while shooting better than 58 percent from the field. And though he’s admitted to making his fair share of rookie mistakes during that time as well, his production coupled with his undeniable energy, power and athleticism have transformed him into a fan favorite in short order.

“He’s just got to concentrate on what his strengths are and that’s probably the biggest thing,” said Adelman. “We really need him to go to the boards – really need him to hurt them – and he can run the floor as well as anybody, so I just think it’s a mentality that he’s got to be very aggressive in the way he rebounds the ball and the way he attacks them around the basket.”

If Patterson does, in fact, slide over to the small forward position for spot duty, such a move would only heighten the need for Jordan Hill to provide a strong interior presence off the bench. To that end, Hill, too, has been recently enjoying perhaps his best stretch of play of the season, grabbing rebounds and providing the sort of defensive intensity the Rockets have been seeking from him all season long.

“For a few games, we lost our best post player, Luis Scola, so it was time for all the bigs to step up and take a role in his place,” said Hill, when asked about reasons behind the recent increase in the caliber of his play. “I just go out there and focus on trying to get every rebound, try to defend as much as possible, try to alter or block any shots that come to the rim, and just be a high energy guy that goes out there and does the little, but tough, things that help the team win.”

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