With Rockets forward/center Ryan Anderson out with a sprained ankle, joining Luc Mbah a Moute whose dislocated shoulder will keep him from playing in the first round if not longer, the Rockets had to adjust their rotation to have a backup for P.J. Tucker at power forward.
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said he would not hesitate to play Joe Johnson at the position, as he had through most of the final weeks of the season, but he also could use starting small forward Trevor Ariza as a backup power forward with James Harden available to defend at the position.
"It doesn’t change anything because James will probably be guarding the four," D’Antoni said. "Trevor is still probably in his position. Two, three, four are all interchangeable (offensively.) It depends who guards the four. We have James who does that."
Because the Rockets so often switch on screens, Harden has defended in the low post extensively this season, with players posting up against him averaging .73 points per possession. Among players that have defended in the low post at least 82 times this season, that ranks as the best low-post defense in the NBA. (Among players defending in the low post 72 times or more, once for every game Harden has played, he ranks fourth.)
With Anderson likely to have played as a backup center, as he did against the Timberwolves in the regular season, the greater adjustment could be in the middle, where the range-shooting Anderson and physical Nene are about as different at two players can be.
"You have to prepare for everything, all the possibilities," Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. "That’s one of the strengths of their roster, that they do a good job of putting people that play multiple positions together. So you have to be ready, they can downsize at four, they can go big, they can put shooting at five. You have to be ready for everything.
"One of the things I’m certain for the Rockets, the coaches, the team, they understand that Nene and Clint Capela put a lot of pressure on the rim, rolling to the rim and that’s a big part of what makes their offense go."
D’Antoni said Anderson "has a chance" to play in Game 2 on Wednesday.