Houston ends 3-game skid; Phil Jax in the house

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Houston Rockets got back to winning
despite not playing close to their best.

They were a lot more impressive than the slumping Los Angeles
Lakers, who probably left former coach Phil Jackson shaking his

Tracy McGrady had 27 points and seven assists, five teammates
scored in double figures, and the Rockets beat the Lakers 114-100
on Thursday night with Jackson among those in attendance.

The Rockets snapped a three-game losing streak and handed Los
Angeles its fifth straight loss and 13th in 14 games -- something
that's never happened to the proud franchise.

The Lakers (33-42) are assured of their first losing record
since they went 33-49 in 1993-94, when they lost a franchise-record
10 straight to finish the season.

This year and that season are the only times they've failed to
qualify for the playoffs since 1976.

"Great," was Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy's initial response
when told that Jackson attended the game.

"He had an unbelievable run here," Van Gundy said. "He'll be
wanted. I know that, obviously. He's a great, great coach."

Jackson watched from owner Jerry Buss' luxury suite. Jackson
hadn't seen the Lakers play in person since last June, when he
coached them in the NBA Finals. Shortly thereafter, the decision
was made that he wouldn't return this season.

It's been speculated since Rudy Tomjanovich resigned as coach on
Feb. 2 that Jackson would come back to the team he guided to
championships in his first three seasons. But Jackson's agent has
said his client wouldn't discuss a coaching job with anyone until
after the season.

Jackson's name has come up as a possible candidate for several
teams including the Lakers, New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers
and Minnesota Timberwolves.

"It's just a social visit," Lakers spokesman John Black said
of Jackson's visit. "Dr. Buss had invited him several months ago
to come to a game and sit in his suite with him. Phil's been
traveling a lot; this was the first opportunity that Phil was in
town when we had a home game."

Yao Ming scored 21 points, Scott Padgett had 16, Mike James and
David Wesley added 13 each and Bobby Sura scored 11 for the Rockets
(45-31), who went ahead for good late in the first quarter.

Caron Butler had 24 points and 12 rebounds, Kobe Bryant had his
fifth triple-double of the season with 19 points, 10 rebounds and
10 assists, and Chucky Atkins scored 15 points for the Lakers.

Bryant, returning to action after sitting out one game because
of a bruised right shin, shot just 4-of-19.

"I don't know, you'll have to ask him," Bryant said when asked
how Jackson might have viewed the Lakers' performance.

"We're a young team, we're struggling," Bryant said. "We're
just inconsistent. But we play hard."

When asked if he thought Jackson might return as the Lakers'
coach, Bryant replied: "At this point, it really doesn't matter to
me. I don't want to get caught up in speculation. We've still got a
season to play."

The defensively challenged Lakers are 7-36 when they've allowed
100 or more points. Defense was something Jackson stressed during
his five years as the team's coach.

"If you don't defend, you're not going anywhere in this
league," Lakers coach Frank Hamblen said. "We scored enough
points to win."

McGrady's 3-pointer as the shot clock was expiring gave the
Rockets a 104-92 lead with 4:45 remaining, and Yao outscored the
Lakers 6-1 by himself to make it 110-96.

"We didn't play great, but we'll take it," Sura said. "The
way we played tonight is not going to cut it against the better
teams. It was better, but it won't be good enough."

The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 10-2 to finish the third
quarter for an 88-76 lead. Atkins had scored seven straight points
as the Lakers drew within four points.

Game notes
Rockets G Jon Barry missed his third game because of back
spasms. ... Lamar Odom, the Lakers' second-leading scorer, hasn't
given up hope of playing again this season. Odom, eligible to come
off the injured list before Sunday's game in Sacramento, has missed
10 games because of a strained left shoulder. ... The Rockets
played their first game since learning F Juwan Howard will miss the
rest of the season because of a viral infection in his heart.
Howard averaged 9.6 points and 5.7 rebounds in 61 games in his
first season with the Rockets. ... Hamblen, who took over when
Tomjanovich resigned, has said from the outset he'd like to see
Jackson return as coach. "I think he'd be a great candidate for
any job," Hamblen said before the game. "That's a situation he
and Dr. Buss have to discuss. Phil's been a great closer his whole
career. I don't know if he'd be a fixer-upper."


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