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Lakers lose Odom early, fight off Rockets

HOUSTON (AP) -- Kobe Bryant was already icing his knees,
believing the victory was secure. The next thing he knew, Phil
Jackson was asking him to rescue the Los Angeles Lakers from the
hard-charging Houston Rockets.

Bryant scored 23 points and the Lakers overcame the loss of
Lamar Odom and the Rockets' near-historic comeback to beat Houston
102-94 Tuesday night.

The Lakers led by 27 points -- 93-66 -- with 9:45 left. Jackson
pulled Bryant 3 minutes later and Bryant figured his night was
over. However, Los Angeles didn't score another field goal until
the final minute and the Rockets got within two before the Lakers
pulled out the victory they should've sealed long before.

"That was the weirdest game I've ever been a part of," Bryant
said. "That's the first time I've put the ice on and had to come
back out and play. It's almost like Red Auerbach smoking the
cigar."

Luke Walton added 18 points and seven assists for the Lakers,
who shut down Yao Ming in the second half and snapped Houston's
six-game home winning streak.

Yao scored 26 points -- just five in the second half -- to lead
the Rockets, who played without Tracy McGrady. The six-time
All-Star is out indefinitely with back spasms.

Two minutes into the game, Odom sprained his right knee when
Shane Battier blocked him on a layup. Odom, the Lakers' leading
rebounder and second-leading scorer, was taken to a hospital for an
MRI exam. The Lakers said Odom suffered a moderate MCL sprain and
Jackson said he'll be lucky to play again before the end of
January.

The Lakers still led by three at the half, then outscored the
Rockets 30-13 in the third quarter to seemingly take control. They
shot 65 percent in the quarter, while the Rockets committed 10
turnovers and missed nine of 13 shots.

"I thought we weren't as strong mentally as we could have been,
when it was not going well for us," Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy
said.

In the fourth quarter, the Lakers' lead reached 26 points --
90-64 -- with 10:22 left when Van Gundy pulled Yao, Battier and
starting point guard Rafer Alston. Jackson pulled Bryant with Los
Angeles leading by 27, leaving Smush Parker as the only starter on
the floor.

The scrappy Rockets reserves held the Los Angeles leftovers
without a field goal for 8 minutes and hit three 3-pointers during
a 24-1 spurt.

Jackson re-inserted his starters with 4 minutes left, but Chuck
Hayes' free throws with 1:38 to go cut it to 94-92. The largest
deficit the Rockets had ever overcome in a game is 23 points, done
twice, the last time in 2001.

But Kwame Brown tipped in a Bryant miss, Steve Novak missed a
3-pointer at the other end and Parker scored in the lane to stall
the Houston rally.

"We wanted the bench to finish things off," Jackson said. "We
didn't finish it off and we are lucky to escape."

Luther Head, who started for McGrady, went 4-for-8 from 3-point
range and scored 21 points. Head and Hayes were the only starters
on the floor when Houston started its comeback.

"The guys Coach put in at the end, we just said to ourselves,
'We've got nothing to lose," Head said.

Head started the rally with a 3-pointer and a jumper from just
inside the arc. Bryant split two free throws to make it 94-73, but
the Lakers went the next 6:38 without scoring.

Head scored again, then assisted on Hayes' layup to cut the lead
to 15 with 5 minutes left. Head sank another 3-pointer with 2:54
remaining to trim the gap to 94-90.

"We had that confidence and we kept playing hard," Head said.

Early on, the Lakers could do little to stop Yao, who hit five
of his first six shots.

Guarded by Brown, Yao converted two three-point plays in the
first 5 minutes. Brown picked up both fouls and was replaced by
7-foot Andrew Bynum.

Yao promptly flipped a hook over Bynum, then dumped a pass to
Head for a reverse layup that gave the Rockets a 19-9 lead.

The Rockets missed four of their last five shots of the half and
the Lakers finished with a 13-3 run to take a 54-51 lead at the
break.

Bonzi Wells, who hadn't played since the third game, started the
second half for Houston and pulled down a rebound 13 seconds out of
halftime. Van Gundy acknowledged this week that the two had
"struggled to find common ground" since Wells arrived at training
camp.

The Lakers opened the half with a 14-4 run as the Rockets turned
sloppy, committing eight turnovers in the first 6 minutes.

"We didn't have the focus you need to have to play those
guys," said Battier. "You've really got to be on your game
mentally. We didn't respond the way good teams respond. Hopefully,
that's a lesson we can learn."

Game notes
The Rockets fell to 9-31 without McGrady. ... Hostoun opens
its longest road trip of the season, a five-game West Coast swing,
against Golden State on Thursday. ... The Rockets and Lakers play
again Friday, at Staples Center.

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