The Houston Rockets are running out of time to make a significant run toward the playoffs. Mounting injuries are making their task even more difficult.
The battered Rockets seek to avoid a third straight loss when they host the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday.
Houston (36-34) has reached the postseason in each of the last three years, but that streak will come to an end unless the Rockets can mount a furious charge over their final 12 games. They are 5 1/2 games behind eighth-place Portland, and would also need to leapfrog Memphis to earn the final playoff spot.
Houston's struggles are partially due to a lack of bench depth. Jordan Hill (sprained left ankle), Jared Jeffries (sore Achilles' left tendon) and Shane Battier (knee) all missed Wednesday's game in Oklahoma City, forcing the Rockets to call up Jermaine Taylor and Mike Harris from the NBA Development League. Their five reserves combined to shoot 29.0 percent (9 of 31) en route to a 122-104 defeat.
It was the second straight loss and third in four games for the Rockets, who allowed the Thunder to shoot 58.8 percent. Luis Scola led the Rockets with 25 points and Trevor Ariza added 20 in the losing effort.
"We've just got to go play," said Kyle Lowry, who scored 15 points off the bench. "We've got to finish strong and see what happens."
Returning from a three-game road trip, Houston will play its next three at home, where it is 20-15 this season and has won three of its last four. The Rockets will also host the Lakers and the Wizards before going on the road to take on San Antonio and Boston. The Lakers, Spurs and Celtics are all playing .600 ball or better.
"We've got to respond and see if we can get better," Rockets coach Rick Adelman told NBA.com.
Houston will try to start building momentum against the Clippers (26-45). The Rockets easily defeated the Clippers twice in December, 102-85 at the Staples Center and 108-99 at home.
Los Angeles has dropped 10 of its last 11 overall and 11 straight on the road, including a 106-96 defeat in Dallas on Tuesday. The Clippers led by one at the end of the third quarter, but Dallas opened the fourth with a 22-3 run to effectively put the game out of reach.
Drew Gooden had 26 points and 20 rebounds and Chris Kaman added 22 points, but the Clippers shot 37.9 percent as a team. The bench gave a particularly weak effort, totaling five points while shooting 2 for 10 from the floor.
"I was disappointed that our bench didn't help us," Los Angeles coach Kim Hughes said. "I think if our bench would have performed we would have won the game."
The Clippers haven't won on the road since a 90-82 victory at Chicago on Feb. 2. They are 7-29 away from home on the season.