02-29-2012, 12:47 PM
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THE FACTS: In their first year playing under coach Kevin McHale, the Houston Rockets are learning how to win ugly -- even against the struggling squads that are simply learning how to win.
The Rockets were dominated on the boards and in the paint and did not shoot well, but they managed to grind out an 88-85 victory over the lowly Toronto Raptors on Tuesday at Toyota Center. Kyle Lowry scored a game-high 26 points on 8-for-12 shooting and dished out five assists to lead Houston (21-14), which has won five of its last six games. Luis Scola added his second straight double-double, finishing with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
DeMar DeRozan poured in 17 points to pace the Raptors (10-24), who have dropped four consecutive road games and five of six overall. James Johnson chipped in 16 points, eight boards and three steals.
QUOTABLE: "It's good that we're finding a way to win those close games, those games where it's going to come down to defense, because that stretch when it gets close to time to be in the playoffs, that's what games are going to come down to."
-- Rockets guard Courtney Lee
THE STAT: The Raptors outworked Houston on the glass over the first three quarters, building a 39-24 rebounding edge. But the Rockets turned the tables on Toronto in the fourth period as they won the rebounding battle 13-8 overall and 4-0 offensively.
TURNING POINT: Houston was seemingly in control for a majority of the first three quarters and held a 62-49 lead with 5:39 remaining in the third. The Raptors came alive at that point, however, ripping off a 13-3 run over the next four minutes to cut their deficit to 65-62. Toronto was within 81-79 with about three minutes left in the fourth when forward Chandler Parsons drained a crucial mid-range baseline jumper that stretched the Rockets' lead to 83-79. The rookie later took a charge before grabbing an offensive rebound with Houston ahead by only two points in the final minute to essentially preserve the victory for the Rockets.
QUOTABLE II: "How many games have we had like that this year where we put ourselves in a position to win, and it comes down to one play, one possession, one situation, and we misread or don't come up with the big play? A lot of these guys have not closed out games in those situations, and this whole year is about learning."
-- Raptors coach Dwane Casey on his young team's lack of execution in the closing moments of games
HOT: Lowry, who had the hot hand for the Rockets just before the All-Star break, continued his efficient offensive play of late Tuesday by knocking down eight of 12 shots to go with five assists. Lowry has averaged 23.8 points on 54.7 percent shooting (23-for-59) overall, including 63.6 percent shooting from behind the arc, 7.0 assists and 4.8 boards in his last four games.
NOT: Toronto point guard Jose Calderon struggled to penetrate against Lowry and Goran Dragic and failed to find a rhythm from the perimeter. Including Tuesday's seven-point outing on 3-for-9 shooting, Calderon has been limited to 9.0 points per game on 36.0 percent (9-for-25) shooting over his last three contests.
GOOD MOVE: It is natural for teams to look sloppy during the early stages of the first game after the All-Star break, but the Rockets did not show signs of rust in the first quarter of Tuesday's contest. Houston executed cleanly on both ends of the floor while building a 12-point lead over the opening 12 minutes, forcing five turnovers, committing zero and shooting 48 percent from the field.
BAD MOVE: Several Raptors failed to catch crisp passes despite not being harassed by a defender, displaying the lack of focus that plagued turnover-prone Toronto. Each of these lackadaisical errors proved costly in the end as the Raptors fell by only three points.
QUOTABLE III: "It was a very disjointed night. ... It was just a difficult game. We found a way to win. That's the biggest thing."
-- Kevin McHale
NOTABLE: Toronto forward Andrea Bargnani (calf) traveled with the team to Houston and has resumed light conditioning work, but a target date for his return has not been set. ... The Rockets unveiled their 1980s All-Decade team, honoring Hakeem Olajuwon, John Lucas, Ralph Sampson, Robert Reid and Rodney McCray. ... Houston improved to 6-1 this season in games decided by four points or less. ... The Rockets have won five consecutive meetings with the Raptors in Houston. ... Houston has not been seven games above .500 since the 2009-10 season. ... The Rockets improved to 13-0 when limiting their opponent to less than 90 points. ... Houston is now 18-1 when leading after three quarters. ... The Rockets have been outrebounded in seven consecutive contests, but they are 5-2 during this stretch. ... Toronto's Ed Davis matched his career high with 15 rebounds. ... The Raptors fell to 0-10 on the road against winning teams. ... Toronto is now 1-20 when trailing at halftime and 1-19 when trailing after three periods.