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Interim Houston coach Kelvin Sampson is always reminding his reserves that there will be some nights when the team's stars will struggle and the Rockets will need them to pick up the slack.
Tuesday was one of those nights.
Toney Douglas had a season-high 22 points and Greg Smith added a career-best 21 to help the Rockets overcome a tough outing by James Harden and rally for a 107-105 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Douglas believes the development of Houston's bench players will be important as the season progresses. Houston's reserves had a season-high 59 points on Tuesday, compared to just 20 by the Lakers' bench.
"That's going to be key, and that's only going to make us more dangerous," he said.
The Lakers had a 13-point lead with less than 10 minutes to go. But Houston used two big runs, including a 9-2 spurt capped by a 3-pointer from Douglas to take its first lead of the game - 100-99 - with about 2 1/2 minutes left.
Dwight Howard made three free throws after that, but a bucket by Smith and four free throws by Houston put the Rockets back on top 106-102. Kobe Bryant hit a 3-pointer with 13.3 seconds left to cut the lead to one.
Bryant fouled Douglas and he made one of two free throws with 8.8 seconds left. The Lakers had a last chance, but Bryant missed a 3-point attempt before Metta World Peace missed a layup to give Houston the win.
Harden finished with 15 points and a career-high 10 rebounds, but entered the fourth quarter with just eight points after shooting 2 of 18 through the first three quarters. Jeremy Lin also struggled offensively, going 2 of 8 for four points.
"We had a lot of guys struggle, but our bench was good," Sampson said. "There is a lot to be said about ... having guys on the bench that you trust that can come through. Toney Douglas, Greg (Smith) and Carlos (Delfino), those three guys are special. They were tough for us tonight."
The win was Houston's fifth in the past six games and drops the Lakers to 3-5 under new coach Mike D'Antoni.
Bryant led the Lakers with 39 points and Howard had 16 points and 12 rebounds. The Rockets fouled Howard repeatedly in the last 3 1/2 minutes, gambling that sending him to the line would be better than allowing the Lakers to get the ball in Bryant's hands.
Howard went 5 for 10 from the line in that stretch and was eight of 16 overall.
D'Antoni balked at the notion that he should have taken Howard out so the Rockets couldn't use that strategy.
"If you take him out now, then you'll be taking out a guy that's going to be your franchise player all the time," he said. "We've got other problems to worry about. We shouldn't be talking about him. He's doing a (heck) of a job and he'll work through it and knock them down."
(China Daily 12/06/2012 page23)