No matter how often Dwight Howard sits out with an injury – and it's been plenty since he arrived in Houston – the Rockets never become accustomed to missing their force in the middle.
A disappointing stretch makes his latest setback a bit more troubling.
Howard will sit out at least Friday night's visit from Milwaukee as the Bucks look to tie their longest winning streak of the season by handing the Rockets a fourth defeat in five games.
Howard posted a double-double in each of the 10 previous games he played but missed a win over Utah on Jan. 7 with lower-back tightness. He had a season-high 36 points and tied a career best with 26 rebounds in Monday's 140-132 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Clippers before leaving one minute into Wednesday's contest.
The Rockets (22-22) lost 123-114 to Detroit at home despite 33 points, a career-high 17 rebounds and 14 assists from James Harden, who became the first player to hit all of those numbers since Wilt Chamberlain had 53 points, 32 rebounds and 14 assists for Philadelphia against the Lakers on March 18, 1968.
Howard underwent an MRI on Thursday and was diagnosed with a sprained ankle that will keep him out of this matchup with the streaking Bucks (19-25). The Rockets are 3-4 this season when Howard doesn't play and 36-23 since he signed as a free agent in 2013-14.
“We have to figure it out,” Harden said. “We've been through this situation before. Guys are going to have the opportunity to step up and play extra minutes, so just take advantage of it. Every go on this roster is preparing themselves for a situation like this.”
The good news is that point guard Patrick Beverley, who sat out Wednesday with a sprained ankle of his own, should be back in the lineup. He's missed three of the last five.
Houston has dropped three of four following a season-high five-game winning streak.
“Every team is going to have some slippage,” Harden said. “It's just a matter of us regrouping and getting a win (Friday). Basically we just have to focus on what we can control and just go out there and compete.”
The Rockets have won the last four meetings, including when Harden scored 33 points to overcome 27 and 15 rebounds from Giannis Antetokounmpo in a 117-111 win in the last matchup Feb. 6.
Harden is shooting 52.1 percent in 11 career games against the Bucks, but he might have a more difficult time in this matchup considering how well Milwaukee has been defending.
The Bucks beat Atlanta in overtime Friday before holding Charlotte to 37.9 percent from the floor in a 105-92 win the following night. Miami then managed just 36.5 percent shooting in Milwaukee's 91-79 victory Tuesday.
Khris Middleton scored 22 points and Greg Monroe added 15 and 10 rebounds for the Bucks, who can win four in a row for the first time since Nov. 2-7.
“We're getting back to our principles (on defense),” Middleton said of the Bucks, who allowed opponents to shoot 45.7 percent prior to the last two. “We're starting to figure out these rotations and how we need to play defense. It's been great these last couple games.”
Milwaukee has gone 8-7 under interim coach Joe Prunty, who has filled in for coach Jason Kidd as he recovers from a resurfacing of his right hip Dec. 21. The Bucks play at New Orleans on Saturday, and Kidd is expected to return to the bench for Tuesday's home game against Orlando.