The Houston Rockets face a crucial month of basketball as they bid to cement their place in the higher echelons of the Western Conference standings but news today just made that task a lot harder.
Per ESPN's Marc Stein, Rockets center Dwight Howard will be out for four weeks following treatment on his right knee - an issue that has been keeping him out the Houston lineup recently.
Currently ranked no.3 in the West, Rockets fans would have been hoping Howard could return quickly in order to help navigate a tough run of games but that will not be the case and initial reports suggest they could be without the perennial All-Star for even longer.
We noted last week that Howard had sought a second opinion on the injury and the Rockets themselves confirmed on Wednesday that Howard had undergone the treatment.
With the veteran big man having already missed time this season with an injury to his left knee it is clear that Houston aren't willing to take any risks in terms of rushing Howard back.
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Without him though the Rockets will be missing their defensive leader, and current MVP candidate James Harden will be under even more pressure now that the team's second-leading points scorer is down until at least March.
The Rockets may be thinking long-term in their handing of Dwight Howard's injury but they face a difficult set of games without him.
As well as games against the team's just below them in the standings (Clippers twice and Portland) they face the West's no.6 seed Mavericks, no.8 Phoenix, no.2 Memphis and Eastern Conference high flyers the Bulls, Cavs and Atlanta Hawks.
So far this season Dwight Howard has averaged 16.3 points, 11 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. The Rockets should be able to remain in the playoffs despite his absence but their chances of securing one of the top seeds come playoff time just got a lot tougher.
What do you think NBA fans? Does Howard's absence change things in the West or are the Rockets equipped to handle the loss? Let us know in the comments section below...