Small ball working for Rockets

HOUSTON -- The Houston Rockets received some positive news on Monday with the return of starting power forward Terrence Jones to practice. Jones missed the previous five games with a laceration of his right eyelid.

Without him, the Rockets went 4-1, rebounding from a 0-3 start to move to within a half-game of San Antonio for first place in the Southwest.

In doing so, coach Kevin McHale went from a big lineup to a smaller one which has produced this surge.

The big question is: Do the Rockets go back to a small lineup despite the return of Jones?

"We'll see how everything works out the next couple of days," McHale said regarding the possible return of Jones to the starting lineup.

The Rockets' small lineup resulted in better ball movement, spacing and ultimately victories.

James Harden, who was named Western Conference Player of the Week, broke out of his three-game slump with consecutive 40-plus point games and averaged 38.5 for the week.

It was as if the first week of the season, when the Rockets went 0-3, didn't exist.

"Basically," Harden said. "We treated them like preseason games. We weren't ready for the season with so many injuries and things like that. Guys were in the lineup, guys were limited with minutes and we had to figure it out."

In figuring it out, the Rockets went small. They discovered that while either Dwight Howard or Clint Capela was the center, Marcus Thornton, a small forward/shooting guard, moved into a power forward spot as did Trevor Ariza, another small forward.

Saturday, Thornton covered the Clippers Blake Griffin, a traditional power forward and provided a physical presence.

"We small and everybody is taking on ownership," Thornton said.

Help defense, something McHale said still needs work, is the key on the defensive end. Despite a small lineup, the Rockets outrebounded the Clippers, 47-41, and matched them with 11 offensive rebounds.

On offense, teams have to worry about the Rockets deadly outside shooters. Saturday with point guard Ty Lawson (2-11) and Ariza (1-8) struggling, Thornton responded in making 7-of-15 shots from the field for 16 points and Howard was a force inside with 20 points and 20 rebounds and challenged most shots at the rim.

It was Harden, however, who stole the show with a fantastic 46-point outing, where he made half of his 10 3-point shot attempts.

Small ball has worked for the Rockets.

Should they keep it up while letting Jones work his way back on the second unit?

"We got a lot of guys who can create and there's a lot more space," Harden said. "When guys have opportunities to get to the basket for themselves or their teammates (good things happen). We just got to figure something out, we got TJ back now and obviously he's a great talent and he's a key part of our team. We got to make sure everybody can get on the same page."