Rockets eager to relaunch vs. Lakers for playoff stretch

(Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

(AP) -- The Houston Rockets are expected to have their Opening Night starting lineup back together for the first time in two months when they visit the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, the first game back from the All-Star break for both teams.

Clint Capela is expected to return after undergoing thumb surgery and missing 15 games. Chris Paul missed 17 games from Dec. 22 to Jan. 25 before playing eight games leading up to the break.

They will rejoin with James Harden, a Los Angeles-area native who leads the NBA in scoring at 36.6 points a game.

"I think the break was good for everybody," Paul said. "Hopefully -- we're going to see -- it was a good break for everybody to get away for a couple of days."

Harden said he's hoping the Rockets can begin molding into playoff shape now that they're healthy and start playing like the team that pushed the Golden State Warriors to seven games in the Western Conference Finals last season.

"We haven't gotten there, but we will," Harden said. "We haven't been healthy yet. When we're a healthy group, we've had glimpses. So, hopefully, after this break, we can catch a rhythm. We just have to stay healthy."

The Lakers lost four of five and eight of 11 heading into the All-Star break. They will resume play in 10th place in the Western Conference standings, three games behind the eighth-place Los Angeles Clippers.

Lakers star LeBron James missed 17 games following Christmas with a groin injury, but returned to play five of six before the All-Star break.

"I feel pretty good where I'm at physically," he told reporters after practice Wednesday. "I'm rounding third base, sliding into home."

Los Angeles point guard Lonzo Ball remains out after missing the past 10 games with an ankle injury.

Josh Hart and Mike Muscala are probable for Thursday, however.

Hart, who has started 21 games at shooting guard this season, missed three of the past four games with a knee injury.

Muscala, a 6-11 power forward who the Lakers acquired from the Clippers at the trade deadline, missed the last game with an ankle injury. Los Angeles backup center Tyson Chandler is also questionable with a stiff neck.

Harden, Paul and Capela combined for 83 points in a 124-115 win against the Lakers on Oct. 20 at Staples Center.

Harden scored 50 and the trio combined for 80 points in a 126-111 win on Dec. 13 in Houston

Even without Paul and Capela in the lineup on Jan. 19, the Rockets won 138-134 in overtime, putting them in position for their second-ever season series sweep against the Lakers. Houston also went 4-0 against Los Angeles in 2015-16.

"If we went on a winning streak with me out, that was still not our team," Paul said. "If we won all our games with Clint out, that's not our team."

Harden, who is a favorite to win the NBA's Most Valuable Player award for a second straight season, said he is eager to get started again.

"I'm just excited for the second half of the season and getting a full, healthy roster and taking it from there," Harden said.

--Field Level Media

Updated February 21, 2019