Rockets nip Lakers on Yao's free throws
Yao Ming scored 23 points, including the winning free throws with 15.2 seconds left, to lead the Houston Rockets to a 103-102 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.
Los Angeles forward Brian Cook missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds to play, and the Lakers fumbled away the ensuing rebound as the clock expired.
Cook flashed a pained smile as the Rockets stormed onto the court, and Yao pumped his fist before running into a mob of teammates to celebrate another close win.
Lamar Odom scored 14 of his 22 points in the final period and Chucky Atkins added 21 for the Lakers, who came up just short in their bid to win their first game under interim coach Frank Hamblen.
Hamblen took over Wednesday when Rudy Tomjanovich resigned as head coach, citing health concerns. Hamblen, a 57-year-old career assistant, again lobbied for the return of Phil Jackson before the game.
The Lakers really could've used the late-game poise of Jackson and Kobe Bryant, who hasn't played since Jan. 13 when he severely sprained his right ankle.
The Rockets led by 15 points entering the fourth quarter and seemed well on their way to an easy victory. But Odom emerged from a three-quarter funk to almost single-handedly rally the Lakers.
Odom scored the Lakers' first seven points of the quarter, found Atkins for a 3-pointer and blew past Yao for a layup that brought Los Angeles within 98-96. The sellout crowd of 18,201 ¡ª Houston's largest of the season ¡ª fell silent and the Rockets quickly called a timeout.
The Lakers eventually went ahead 100-99 on Atkins' 3 with 1:54 left. Odom swatted away Juwan Howard's layup on the next possession and Atkins made two free throws to give Los Angeles a three-point lead.
Houston took over from there.
Sura hit two free throws to pull Houston within a point and Odom missed a jumper to set up the final sequence.
The Rockets got the ball down low to Yao, who muscled his way between a couple of defenders and was fouled. He calmly made the go-ahead free throws.
The Lakers dropped to 5-6 without Bryant. Hamblen said Bryant should play at some point during this five-game road trip.