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Lewenberg: Lowry to play with ankle sprain in Houston

Josh Lewenberg
11/11/2013 4:28:00 PM
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HOUSTON - Coming off a dominant performance at home, the Raptors will have their starting point guard in uniform when they face a stiffer test in Houston Monday.

Kyle Lowry, who sat out the entire second half of Saturday's 115-91 rout over Utah with a sprained right ankle, will give it a go against his former team as Toronto opens a two-game Western road swing against Dwight Howard, James Harden and the Rockets.

"I'm not 100 per cent but I'm okay," Lowry said following his team's shoot around Monday afternoon. "No complaints. I won't favour it, it won't be a hindrance to me. It's just another game."

The Raptors' point guard came down awkwardly on the foot of Enes Kanter in the final possession of the first half Saturday and was removed from the game as a precaution.  

"I knew at halftime it wasn't serious," Dwane Casey said. "I think if it was a close game, he would have been able to play. He's a tough kid and I had all the faith in the world [that he would be okay]."

Although the Raptors set season highs in points, field goals (40), field goal percentage (.484), three-pointers (10) and assists (23) against the winless Jazz Saturday, they will have the odds stacked against them when the visit Houston's Toyota Center, a building they haven't won in since 2007.

Toronto has lost six straight road contests to the Rockets and is 15-3 all-time in Houston. However, this may be the best time for the Raptors, in search of their second straight win, to pay Houston a visit as the Rockets are struggling to find themselves early in the season.

Houston won its first three games in the Howard era but has dropped three of four since, most recently falling to the Clippers, 107-94 on Saturday. The Rockets led by nine at the half in that game but were outscored 61-39 over the final 24 minutes.

Howard is averaging 17.6 points and 13.6 rebounds - third in the NBA - in seven games with his new club and has been a handful for the Raptors dating back to his time in Los Angeles and Orlando, scoring 24.7 points on 62 per cent shooting in his last 18 games against Toronto. However, the Rockets' centre is shooting just 49 per cent from the free throw line this season and Casey indicated he's not opposed to taking advantage of that.

"Usually our philosophy is if you get in a bad way against a guy who's not a great free throw shooter, you want to wrap him up," Casey said Monday, asked about the hack-a-Howard method. "Dwight is no different. It's within the rules and we'll have to look at it."

Lowry played 218 games for the Rockets over three-plus seasons, improving his scoring numbers each year. He averaged a career-high 14.3 points for Houston in 2011-12 before Toronto acquired him in a trade that summer.

"It has a special place in my heart," Lowry said of Houston. "I love coming back here. This is a great city, the fans were great for me the organization was great for me. I always get a good kick out of coming back here."

Trends and Tidbits

The Raptors' second unit had totalled 133 points in the team's first six games, outscored by the opponent's bench in each contest, before exploding for 56 in Saturday's win. Tyler Hansbrough led the way with 23 points, matching a career best 11 made free throws on a career-high 13 attempts.

Houston limited opponents to just 93.7 points on 39 per cent shooting in its first three games of the season, all wins, but has allowed 111.0 points on 45 per cent shooting in four games since, losing three.

Monday's game in Houston is the Raptors' first on the road against a Western Conference opponent this season. They were 3-12 when visiting teams in the West last year. Toronto will face the Grizzlies in Memphis on Wednesday before returning home for six of seven games at the Air Canada Centre.

What to Watch For

Two of the league's best on the boards

Both the Raptors and the Rockets have been two of the NBA's most dominant teams on the boards to begin this season. Averaging 46.3 rebounds per game, Houston ranks second in the league in that category while Toronto ranks ninth grabbing 44.3 boards per contest.

The Raptors have out-rebounded their opponent in each of the first seven games, with a plus-52 differential on the glass overall. They rank third in offensive rebounds (14.1) and first in second-chance points per game (21.0), which has accounted for 22 per cent of their total offence thus far.

Toronto faces its toughest test on the boards with the Rockets' front line of Howard - who has led the league in rebounding in five of the last six seasons - and Omer Asik, who was third last year.

"It's a challenge," Casey admitted. "Everyone from that standpoint has their work cut out for them as far as keeping them off the boards and winning the rebounding game."

Pressure the home team

With the front-court pairing of Howard and Asik, along with sophomore point guard Patrick Beverley stepping into the starting lineup for Jeremy Lin, the Rockets are still working out the kinks offensively. Although they're still scoring at a torrid pace - ranked fourth, averaging 105.6 points per game - they have had some difficulty taking care of the ball.

The Rockets have turned the ball over at least 18 times in five of their last six games. Overall, they allowed an average of 21.2 points of 19.0 turnovers in the six games since their opener.

Who to Watch For

DeMar DeRozan

After a strong preseason, DeRozan has struggled to begin the campaign, specifically with his jump shot. The Raptors' guard has hit just 12 of his 45 field goal attempts (27 per cent) over the last three games.

Although he'll have his hands full defensively with Harden, the Raptors' need DeRozan to get back on track on the other end of the floor as well. DeRozan averaged 15.5 points in two games against the Rockets last year, as the two teams split the season series, and has scored 21.6 per over his last five meetings with Houston.

James Harden

Harden - the NBA's fourth leading scorer, averaging 24.7 points per game - is coming off his worst outing of the season, scoring just 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting against the Clippers while playing with two sore feet.

He is also under the weather, battling a flu bug that is going around Houston's locker room. Although he'll be playing at less than 100 per cent, Casey and the Raptors have still keyed in on the Rockets' wounded star.

"Harden's the head of the snake and we've got to do everything we can to control him," said Casey, who plans to throw multiple defenders at Harden, including DeRozan, Rudy Gay and possibly even Julyan Stone.

Injury Report

Lowry (sprained right ankle) will play for the Raptors.

Harden, who is under the weather and has been playing with a series of foot ailments, is expected to give it a go.

Omri Casspi (strained left knee) and Chandler Parsons (back spasms) are also expected to play but will be game-time decisions for Houston.

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