The Toronto Raptors’ attempt to hold onto the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference could be made considerably more difficult if one of their top players misses time in the final two weeks of the regular season.
That could be the case Wednesday night when the Raptors host the Houston Rockets with point guard Kyle Lowry’s status uncertain after sustaining a knee injury Monday in Miami.
The Rockets, meanwhile, have been trying to chase down the No. 3 seed in the West without one of their top players as Dwight Howard has missed five of the last seven games with an ankle injury.
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Lowry remained in the game after suffering the injury in the first half, but left in the second half after scoring 11 points in 26 minutes. He entered the game struggling and has been held to 12.0 points per game on 33.3 percent shooting in his last three.
"He bumped knees," coach Dwane Casey said after the 93-83 loss to the Heat. "It puffed up a little bit. X-rays were negative. We just have to wait and see how he is."
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for Toronto (42-32) and, coupled with Chicago’s win, dropped it into a tie with the Bulls for the No. 3 seed.
The Raptors shot 50.0 percent for the game but were held to 32 second-half points.
"It was a hard-fought game – basketball at a high level," said Greivis Vasquez, who led Toronto with 17 points off the bench. "We lost it in the third period. We came out too relaxed. We didn’t attack the basket. Everything worked for them."
Toronto has won six straight home meetings with the Rockets (49-24), but the only meeting this year was one to forget. The Raptors shot a season-low 33.3 percent and fell 110-104 in double overtime on Nov. 11 in Houston.
Since-traded Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan combined for 51 points but shot 17 of 62 from the field.
Jeremy Lin scored a game-high 31 points off the bench for Houston while James Harden added 26 and Howard had 18 and 24 rebounds.
The Rockets might not have their big man this time around as they try to work through a trio starters. Howard sat out a second straight game in Tuesday’s 105-96 loss at Brooklyn, and they were also without point guard Patrick Beverley (torn right meniscus) and small forward Terrence Jones (flu-like symptoms).
Beverley has missed two games but is expected to return this season without surgery.
"We had the same problem early in the season," Harden said. "We thought we were getting over it, getting guys healthy and getting into mojo and a groove. Three of our starters are out now so we’ve just got to figure out a way to get through it. We’ll be alright."
Harden scored a team-high 26 points while Omer Asik, starting for Howard, had 12 and a career-high 23 rebounds. But Houston shot 38.1 percent and fell three games behind the Los Angeles Clippers for third in the West.
Injuries or not, coach Kevin McHale wants to see more accountability and execution out of his players to avoid a third straight loss.
"It doesn’t make any different who’s out," McHale said. "We’ve got to play … Everybody’s got to play better."