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Yao goes 9-for-9, scores 20 in narrow win

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Houston Rockets have been patiently
waiting for Yao Ming to display the talents of a first overall draft choice.

The 7-foot-6 Chinese import did just that in the eighth game of
his career -- and against the three-time defending NBA champion Los
Angeles Lakers, no less.

Yao shot 9-for-9 in scoring a career-high 20 points in 23
minutes, and also had six rebounds Sunday night to help the Rockets
beat the Lakers 93-89.

Steve Francis scored 11 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter
and Maurice Taylor had nine of his 12 in the final period for the
Rockets (5-3), who snapped a seven-game losing streak to the
Lakers.

"He added to his highlight reel tonight,'' Lakers forward Rick
Fox said of Yao. "He's been much-maligned as a No. 1 draft pick.
You can't teach 7-6. This is an individual who can clearly play the
game, he's no circus act. He's going to have more and more nights
like this.

"He can speak clear English, too, which surprised me. I heard
him talking to his teammates.''

The loss was the fifth in six games for the three-time defending
NBA champion Lakers (3-7), again playing without Shaquille O'Neal --
a development which no doubt worked to Yao's advantage.

"I guess it's luck,'' Yao said through an interpreter when
asked about making every shot he took -- nine field goals and two
free throws. "For me, it's definitely a breakthrough.''

Yao made six baskets in the second quarter and three baskets and
a pair of free throws to complete three-point plays in the final
period.

The 22-year-old rookie's previous high was 10 points.

"The big kid was really good tonight, he was the difference in
this game,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.

"He was a presence in there for us,'' Taylor said. "They
didn't have their big guy, we had ours.''

Yao, who played one minute in the first period, 10 in the second
and the entire fourth quarter, said he was motivated by the
championship banners hanging in Staples Center.

"It's one of the more important reasons why I was excited to be
on the court,'' he said. "I know the Lakers have a lot of great
centers in the past and have won a lot of championships.''

O'Neal, recovering from offseason surgery on his arthritic right
big toe, again said he hopes to play his first game of the season
Friday night against the Chicago Bulls at Staples Center.

Kobe Bryant scored a season-high 46 points in a losing cause,
but missed a wide-open shot with about 10 seconds left that could
have given the Lakers the lead.

Derek Fisher added a season-high 17 points for the Lakers.

Bryant scored five straight points to cut Houston's lead to
87-86 with 1:46 remaining.

Yao made a three-point play with a minute left before Fisher's
three-pointer with 44.4 seconds to go made it a one-point game
again.

The Lakers got the ball back when the Rockets failed to get a
shot off in 24 seconds, but Bryant missed a driving scoop shot that
could have given his team the lead.

Cuttino Mobley, who scored 15 points, made two free throws with
8.2 seconds left, making it 92-89. Bryant missed a 3-point shot
before Mobley made a foul shot with one second left to complete the
scoring.

"I tried to George Gervin it, the ice melted before it hit the
rim,'' Bryant said with a chuckle of the shot he missed that could
have given his team the lead. "The shot should have fallen, but it
didn't. But we still had plenty of opportunities before that to do
something positive.''

Fisher made a basket to start the fourth quarter, putting the
Lakers on top 66-59.

But with Bryant taking a breather, the Rockets scored 11
straight points -- five by Taylor and three each by Francis and Yao
-- to put them ahead 70-66, and they were on top the rest of the
way.

The Rockets led by as many as eight points before the Lakers
battled back into contention. Bryant scored 14 points in the final
7 1/2 minutes, but it wasn't enough.

Bryant, who shot 18-of-37, scored 16 of his team's 24 points in
the second quarter to help the Lakers take a 43-42 halftime lead.

Game notes
Houston center Kelvin Cato missed his third game due to the
death of his grandmother in Atlanta. Cato is scheduled to rejoin
the team Monday in Houston. ... Lakers forward Devean George missed
his third game because of tendinitis in his right ankle. Jackson
said he hopes George and forward Mark Madsen, on the injured list
all season due to a strained left hamstring, will both be able to
practice Monday and return to action in the near future. ... With
tongue in cheek, Jackson said he was glad O'Neal's first game of
the season wasn't against Yao and the Rockets, adding with a smile:
"He'd break him in two.'' ... O'Neal was complimentary when asked
about Yao, saying: "Congratulations to Mr. Ming, first of all.
He's done a lot for his country. He has all the tools -- shoot,
dribble. He can play, he's no slouch.''