Ariza returned after missing seven games with a left hip injury, and Lowry was back after sitting out 12 games with a sprained left ankle. Neither was spectacular, but both shook off the rust as the yo-yo Rockets moved back above .500 on Tuesday night with a 96-88 win over the Washington Wizards.
"It's good to be at full strength," said Ariza, who played 28 minutes off the bench, made 3-of-7 3-pointers and finished with 13 points. "Now we've got to get in sync, back to our roles and understand what we're trying to do."
Luis Scola had 23 points and 10 rebounds and Kevin Martin scored 21 points for the Rockets, who took the lead for good midway through the second quarter and were hardly threatened in the second half by the Wizards, who have lost four straight and six of seven and drew a season-low 10,422 to the Verizon Center.
"I couldn't make a shot, but we won a game -- who cares?" said Lowry, who went 1-for-6 from the field and finished with six points in 19 minutes. "I stepped wrong a few times and I'm a little sore, but other than that I'm fine."
The Rockets entered the game as the consummate .500 team: alternating wins and losses over their last seven, scoring and allowing the same amount of points -- 101.3 -- on the season. Time is running out to put together the type of winning streak needed to snatch a Western Conference playoff berth.
"You just have to keep going for it, hope you do get that streak that can send you in the other direction," coach Rick Adelman said. "We've just kind of been in 'hit and miss' over the last three weeks."
A good place to start is the Wizards, who are still sporting a who-are-these-guys look after the suspension of Gilbert Arenas and the house-cleaning deals just before the trade deadline. Andray Blatche, who has become the go-to player by default, had 18 points and eight rebounds but also five turnovers and sat out the final 4½ minutes in his first game after learning the pitfalls of trash-talking Kevin Garnett.
Wizards coach Flip Saunders said his team "choked" when they blew a 13-point fourth-quarter lead in a loss to the Boston Celtics on Sunday, blaming it mainly on Blatche's unwise decision to start mouthing off to Garnett, inspiring a Celtics rally.
This time, Saunders kept Blatche on the bench when Washington made a late run to cut the lead to six in the final two minutes.
"Dray struggled -- a lot," Saunders said. "He wants to the carry the team, so he got into a situation where he tried to do almost a little bit too much. We took him out, we were down big, those guys came back. You reward the guys that got you there. ... His biggest thing is he's become a high-turnover player."
Blatche said it was his worst game "by far" since he gained a more prominent role in the second half of the season.
"I kept trying to fight harder and harder," Blatche said, "and just made it worse and worse for me."
Washington's best spurt came on a 10-0 run in the first quarter, but the Rockets were in charge the rest of the way, closing the first half with an 11-4 run to go ahead 48-40 and pushing the lead to 18 in the third quarter on rookie Jordan Hill's dunk. Hill finished with 11 points, one shy of his career high, and matched his career high with eight rebounds.
Ariza didn't start for the first time this season. Asked if he'd be OK with that, he said: "If we're winning, I don't mind, but that's not up to me." ... Notable stat: The Rockets dominated 24-8 in second-chance points. ... More evidence of the Rockets' up-and-down ways: They are 22-9 in games following a loss this season. ... The Wizards signed Shaun Livingston to a second 10-day contract. ... After a day off Wednesday, the Wizards will play three straight days as they squeeze in the makeup game from the blizzard that hit Washington last month. "We're going total AAU basketball after this," Saunders said. "Games every day." ... The last-place Wizards are so anxious to fill seats that that the dance girls wore tops urging fans to renew their season tickets.
Marc Stein provides an update on the status of Steph Curry, who is unlikely to play in Game 2 against the Trail Blazers. Stein also notes that Curry said he was optimistic he could have a shot to play in Game 3.
After staving off elimination in the game before, the Heat seized control of this one from the get-go and moved on in the East playoffs.
While the Hornets do not have a series victory to show for their efforts, the work Steve Clifford did to get Charlotte to this point is impressive.