Raptors beat Rockets in battle of short-handed squads
TORONTO — Kevin McHale was talking about the challenges of re-engineering an offense missing three starters, but he might as well have summed up the state of the struggling Houston Rockets.
"We’re all jumbled up right now," McHale said.
DeMar DeRozan scored 29 points, Jonas Valanciunas and Greivis Vasquez each had 15 and the Toronto Raptors won their seventh straight home meeting with Houston, beating the Rockets 107-103 on Wednesday night.
McHale, who called his team "jumbled" before it faced Toronto, had little left to say after Houston’s third straight defeat.
"We let up defensively," a terse McHale said. "We were terrible. We let them do whatever they wanted to do."
James Harden scored 26 points and Chandler Parsons had 20 for the Rockets, whose slide has come on the heels of a five-game winning streak.
"We’re a team that’s desperate for a win right now," Jeremy Lin said.
Houston’s Dwight Howard sat for the sixth time in eight games with a sore left ankle. Howard had a second injection on his troublesome ankle Tuesday.
Houston’s next chance at victory comes Friday, when it hosts Oklahoma City.
Harden used the world "tough" eight times in less than two minutes as he assessed Houston’s plight.
"We’ve got to figure out a way to get through it," Harden said. "All the good teams this season have had their struggles. Ours is coming late in the season and we’ve got to figure it out."
Terrence Ross scored 14 points and John Salmons had 12 as the short-handed Raptors won for the fourth time in five games.
Toronto was without point guard Kyle Lowry, sidelined with a sore left knee. Lowry, who’s averaging 17.4 points and 7.6 assists, injured his knee in a collision with LeBron James in the second quarter of Monday’s loss at Miami.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey said Lowry’s knee was still swollen, but tests had shown no structural damage.
With Brooklyn losing to the Knicks, Toronto moved 2-1/2 games ahead of the Nets atop the Atlantic Division. The Raptors remain tied with the Bulls, who beat Atlanta on Wednesday night, for the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
"Every win is great for us right now for what we’re trying to do, especially with Kyle out and Amir out," Casey said. "Hopefully it gives our guys some confidence."
The Rockets hurt themselves by missing eight of 30 free-throw attempts, including five misses in the fourth quarter.
"We didn’t play hard for periods," McHale said. "We took it easy, we gave guys too much room."
Lin scored 16 points and Donatas Motiejunas had 13 for the Rockets, who could have clinched a playoff spot with a win and a loss by either Memphis or Phoenix.
Terrence Jones started for Houston after missing Tuesday’s loss at Brooklyn with flu-like symptoms, but missed all four shots he took in 10 first half minutes and did not return after the break.
The Rockets were also without guard and regular starter Patrick Beverley (right knee) for the third straight game.
Ross gave Toronto a six-point edge with a 3 at 4:06 and, just over two minutes later, DeRozan stole a pass from Parsons and fed Valanciunas for a layup, putting the Raptors up 105-97.
Lin made a 3 with 8 seconds left, cutting it to 106-100, and Toronto almost turned over the inbounds pass before Vasquez recovered the ball.
"As close as it gets," Lin said when asked how close Houston had come to getting the steal. "I thought we had it and we didn’t come away with it."
Instead, Vasquez came up with the ball and was fouled, making one of two before Isaiah Canaan missed a last-second 3 for the Rockets.
DeRozan played the final three minutes with a bandage on his left hand after he suffered a cut on his palm while fouling Omer Asik. Once the game was over, DeRozan needed several stitches to close the gash.
"I looked down and my whole hand was soaked," DeRozan said of the wound, which left blood spattered across the court.
Toronto took another hit when forward Amir Johnson left with a sore right ankle less than three minutes into the opening quarter. Johnson did not return.
NOTES: Vasquez started in place of Lowry. . . . Toronto finished 16-14 against Western Conference opponents. It’s the first time since the 1999-2000 season that Toronto has been .500 or better against the West. . . . Asik led Houston with 15 rebounds. . . . Toronto is 31-2 when leading after three quarters, including 18-0 at home.