Clint Capela Returns to Practice After Thumb Injury; Expected to Play vs. Lakers
Houston Rockets center Clint Capela (15) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Feb. 1, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The Houston Rockets will reportedly have Clint Capela back for the stretch run following surgery to repair ligament damage in his right thumb.

On Tuesday, Tim MacMahon of ESPN reported Capela returned to practice and will play in Thursday’s contest against the Los Angeles Lakers if there are no setbacks. Capela hasn’t played since a Jan. 13 loss to the Orlando Magic, and Houston went 9-6 in his absence.

Capela is a primary reason the Rockets finished with the best record in the NBA last season and pushed the champion Golden State Warriors to a decisive seventh game in the Western Conference Finals. He averaged 13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks a night and has remained a double-double threat through 42 games this season at 17.6 points, 12.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.

His return will take some of the offensive pressure off James Harden‘s shoulders.

The reigning MVP has been a one-man scoring show for extended stretches as Capela and Chris Paul dealt with injuries, but the big man’s presence in the paint will set the stage for lob passes and pick-and-rolls heading into the postseason.

Capela will also be important on the defensive side for a team that is an ugly 25th in the league in defensive rating, per NBA.com. He can protect the rim with his blocking ability, as opponents are shooting 2.1 percent worse than their normal averages inside six feet when he guards them, per NBA.com.

The Rockets occupy the fifth seed in the Western Conference, and Capela’s return gives them additional firepower as they look to position themselves for another run at the Warriors.

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