for this game

Bryant, Lakers barely hold on against resurgent Rockets

Dec 13, 2006 - 4:58 AM HOUSTON (Ticker) -- Kwame Brown and the Los Angeles Lakers woke up just in time.

Brown converted a crucial follow shot and Kobe Bryant scored 23 points as the Los Angeles Lakers held off a furious fourth-quarter comeback by the Houston Rockets' reserves for a 102-94 victory.

Smush Parker netted 14 points for the Lakers, who shot 48 percent (40-of-84) from the field despite an atrocious fourth-quarter drought.

Leading, 93-66, with 9:45 remaining in the final period, the Rockets went on a 26-1 run to make it 94-92 with 1:54 left. After a miss by Bryant, reserve Scott Padgett missed two crucial free throws.

On the ensuing possession, Bryant missed an acrobatic finger roll, but Brown converted the follow shot to make it 96-92 with 57 seconds left, and the Rockets did not get any closer. Brown scored 12 points on an efficient 6-of-7 shooting from the floor.

Bryant was 8-of-26 from the field and 5-of-6 from the line but missed several deep jumpers down the stretch as the Lakers attempted to stave off Houston's run.

"It's the wierdest game I've ever been part of," Bryant said. "It's the first time I put the ice on and then taken the ice off. It's like Red (Auerbach) lighting up the cigar and having it doused. I missed some jumpers, a lot of them. It's not something to get rattled about."

Bryant sat down with 6:56 to play with Los Angeles leading, 94-73. With the bench players on the floor, the Lakers barely held on for the victory.

"We wanted the bench to finish the game off for us," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who was looking ahead to Wednesday's game vs. Dallas. "The bench has to be more solid, especially when you have back-to-back games. We were lucky to escape simply because they missed some free throws."

"You could see it slowly happening," Los Angeles forward Luke Walton said. "We were settling for outside shots. We have a very young team."

Houston made its comeback with little used reserves Padgett, rookie Steve Novak and John Lucas joining Luther Head and Chuck Hayes.

"I wasn't surprised (at the comeback)," Lakers forward Brian Cook said. "I went to Illinois with Luther Head. I knew he wasn't going to give up. You have to finish the game and stomp on somebody's throat."

Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy found little consolation in his team rallying to make it close.

"The fourth quarter squirmish certainly doesn't overshadow the disappointing play of our core players," he said. "It's unpublishable is how you'd describe it."

The Lakers used a 16-0 third-quarter spurt to build an 84-62 lead, outscoring Houston, 30-13, in the period.

"It didn't start in the third quarter, it started in the second quarter," Van Gundy said. "Their size gave us some problems. I thought our poor offensive play contributed mightily to our poor defensive play."

The Rockets played without superstar Tracy McGrady, who is day-to-day with back spasms. Yao Ming scored 26 points for the Rockets, who shot 45 percent (33-of-73).

"We struggled in the post," Yao said. "We stayed stationary too much. Their approach changed (defensively on me) in the second half. They didn't let me take a dribble and they were trying to steal the ball. If that didn't work, they would double-team."

"We had tipped balls and run-outs and kind of tired him out," said Jackson of Yao, who scored only five points in the second half. "Kwame was tired too."

With McGrady sidelined, Bryant had an easier night on the defensive end.

"My tongue's not hanging out of my mouth now, not having to guard him," Bryant said.

Lakers forward Lamar Odom sprained a medium MCL in his right knee just four minutes into the game and sat out the rest of the contest. He was scheduled to fly with the team to Dallas Tuesday night, then fly back to Los Angeles Wednesday morning to be re-examined.

"I guess I just twisted it," Odom said. "I didn't tear it. (I'll be out) maybe a week or two. Hopefully, that's it. I'm trying to be optimistic."

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