Toronto, ON (SportsNetwork.com) - DeMar DeRozan scored a game-high 29 points and the Toronto Raptors fended off a Rockets rally to down Houston, 107-103, in what turned into a tight battle between playoff teams.
Toronto saw a 20-point lead in the second half dwindle to one midway through the fourth quarter, but did just enough down the stretch to upend the Rockets for a seventh straight time at Air Canada Centre.
Greivis Vasquez made four of Toronto's 10 3-pointers and finished with 15 points, as did Jonas Valanciunas for the Atlantic Division leaders, who are 2 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Nets.
"With Kyle [Lowry] not being able to go and Amir [Johnson] giving what he could for the first few minutes of the game, guys stepped up," Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said.
The Rockets have dropped three straight with All-Star center Dwight Howard out of the lineup due to an ankle injury and hold just a one-game advantage over the Portland Trail Blazers for fourth place in the West.
James Harden led Houston with 26 points, while Chandler Parsons added 20 in the setback.
Houston never led in the second half and was trailing by 20 before embarking on an 18-8 flurry over the final 3:29 of the third quarter, which ended with Houston's backup center, Donatas Motiejunas, missing a dunk before the buzzer.
The momentum stayed with the Rockets early in the fourth, and Omer Asik's three-point play pulled them within 92-90 with 8:45 to play.
Jeremy Lin missed a potential go-ahead 3-pointers the next time down, and Harden spoiled a chance at evening things by going 1-of-2 at the foul line.
DeRozan answered with a tough pullup jumper, and after Harden again split a trip to the foul line, Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson scored inside to push Toronto's lead to 98-92.
The Rockets pulled within one possession with a Harden bucket and an Isaiah Canaan free throw, but Ross countered with a 3-pointer and the Raptors held on over the final three minutes.
"We just couldn't get stops," Harden said. "The basketball was stuck on the offensive end; turnovers, it was a variety of things that gave them easy points."
The Rockets jumped out to a 12-point lead in the first quarter and were ahead 25-14 before the Raptors, after missing eight of their first 12 shots, went on an 11-0 run that stretched into the second frame.
DeRozen ended the half with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer off the glass to give Toronto a 55-50 advantage, and the Raptors extended it by getting to the foul line 17 times in the third quarter and only missing once. Two John Salmons free throws made it an 82-62 game in favor of the hosts late in the frame.
Already without starting point guard Kyle Lowry (knee), the Raptors lost Amir Johnson to an ankle injury in the first quarter ... Ross totaled 14 points and nine rebounds ... Howard has missed six of Houston's last eight games ... The Raptors (16-14) are one of four East teams with a .500 or better record against the West ... Terrence Jones, who missed Houston's previous game because of flu-like symptoms, played 9:48 in the first half and did not return for the second ... Houston has a day off before hosting Oklahoma City on Friday ... The Raptors welcome the Pacers to Air Canada Centre on Friday ... Casey posted his 100th win as Raptors head coach.