If the Rockets fail to make the playoffs, they might look back at the weeks they will spend without Kyle Lowry as their undoing. Lowry has been so important, as he sits out for the next two to four weeks because of a bacterial infection, the loss could be too great to overcome.

That is not certain, however. The teams chasing the Rockets' shaky hold on the eighth playoff spot – Minnesota, Portland, Phoenix and Utah – have issues of their own. None look like a favorite to make the playoffs any more than the Rockets, especially if Goran Dragic continues to play as he has.

If the Rockets fall just short, games lost with Lowry out might be the difference, but they also might have to cite losses to the Raptors and Cavaliers and games lacking effort against the Jazz and Nuggets as the nights that they spent their margin for error.

The Rockets ineffective defense on this road trip began before Lowry checked into a New York hospital complaining of high fever and abdominal distress.