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Lakers rally from 21 points down to stop Yao, Rockets

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Down 21 points after poor shooting and 13
turnovers in the first half, Kobe Bryant still believed the Los
Angeles Lakers could win.

It just took longer than he expected.

Bryant scored a season-high 53 points in a 112-101
double-overtime victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday night.

The Lakers trailed until the final 1½ minutes of regulation,
then squeaked out a back-and-forth first overtime before scoring
the first nine points of the second OT to pull away.

"I felt like the game was ours, as funny as that sounds,"
Bryant said. "When I have that type of sensation, you kind of fall
into a trap, kind of sit back a little too much because you feel
like you're never out of it."

Bryant got it going, resulting in his 13th career game of 50 or
more points. This one came against Yao Ming, who led the Rockets
with 35 points, 15 rebounds and a career-high eight blocked shots.

"I don't know about if he imposed his will," Rockets coach
Jeff Van Gundy said about Bryant. "He imposed his skill, I know
that."

Bryant made 14 of 16 free throws, added 10 rebounds and eight
assists in the Lakers' first overtime game of the season.

"We had a couple baskets here and there from other guys as we
went along, but I had to go to Kobe to get accomplished what we had
to do in a win," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.

Smush Parker added 17 points for the Lakers, including two
consecutive baskets on assists from Bryant that helped force the
first overtime.

"We buckled down and played some defense. That's all it took,"
Parker said. "It's a big victory for us, fighting from 21 points
down without one of our best players on the team."

Tuesday night, the Lakers blew most of a 27-point lead before
handing the Rockets their second home loss of the season, 102-94.
Lamar Odom sprained his knee in that game and will be out at least
a month.

Rafer Alston had 19 points and 10 assists for Houston, which was
without Tracy McGrady for the third consecutive game because of
back spasms. The Rockets are 0-3 since he went out.

Bryant's first basket of the second overtime was a driving,
one-handed dunk over the 7-foot-6 Yao, then Parker hit a 3-pointer
and the Lakers led 104-99.

"It felt great for me," said Bryant, who sprained his right
ankle recently. "It confirmed for me that my legs are back because
that's in the second overtime. Playing long minutes, I'm still able
to get to the basket and explode."

Bryant added three more points in the 9-0 spurt for a 108-99
lead before Alston scored Houston's lone basket in the final 5
minutes.

"No matter how many points Kobe Bryant scored, we killed
ourselves by turning the ball over, missing help on defense and
missing defensive assignments," Alston said. "The quality of
shots we started to take at times was uncharacteristic of us."

The Rockets dissolved in misses and miscues trying to salvage a
game they led by 21 points in the first half. Alston had two
turnovers and Yao was scoreless as Bryant kept hitting right to the
end of his game-high 54-minute performance.

Still, Bryant was impressed with Yao.

"He's really come of age," he said. "There's not too many big
guys that can shoot the ball. He can turn both shoulders and get
off a good shot, an incredible free-throw shooter, defensively, he
had eight blocks. He's something."

Yao picked up his fifth foul in the first overtime, and later
complained about the officiating after getting to the free throw
line six times in the game.

"They (the referees) were letting their big guys keep pushing
me. I would say Kwame Brown and Andrew Bynum fouled me 10 times.
That's not fair," he said.

"I know I'm big, but that's not my fault. They let them have
two hands pushing on my back and keep pushing while I'm shooting
the ball. I wish the league or somebody can help with this and look
at the film. They don't let me do that, so why do they let them do
it?"

The teams traded baskets in the first five-minute overtime. Yao
answered Bryant's running jumper with a short one of his own for a
tie at 99 with 56 seconds left.

Alston lost control of the ball in the backcourt, but regained
it and got it upcourt to Yao, who missed a 14-footer with 2 seconds
left.

On the Lakers' final play, Luke Walton inbounded to Bryant, who
also missed a 14-footer at the buzzer, forcing the second overtime.

As good as the Lakers were in the third quarter -- outscoring
Houston 25-13 to get within six -- they were erratic in the fourth,
getting close, then missing shots that would have put them in
front.

Houston went on a 9-0 run, including five in a row by Bonzi
Wells, that boosted its lead to 13 points.

The Lakers closed to 81-74 on a three-point play by Parker and
Bryant's basket, then Bryant missed on two straight possessions.
They trailed 81-78 before Brown missed three consecutive free
throws and Yao ran off four in a row.

"We got upset with ourselves, but we never panicked," Walton
said. "We got guys that don't give up on this team."

Yao fouled Bryant, who made both for an 85-81 deficit with 3
minutes remaining. Bryant went to the line again, made both and fed
Parker for a 3-pointer from the right corner that gave the Lakers
their first lead, 86-85 with 1:34 remaining.

Luther Head's reverse layup put the Rockets back in front before
Bryant assisted on Parker's layup, then went to the line in place
of Brown and hit a free throw for an 89-87 lead.

Yao tied the game on a turnaround jumper with 28 seconds to go.

Bryant missed a 15-footer from the right side with 4 seconds
left. Brown fouled Head and Houston got the ball out of bounds.
Shane Battier inbounded, but Alston turned the ball over and Brown
stole it, putting up a desperation shot that missed at the buzzer
to force the first overtime.

Bryant scored 17 points in the second quarter, but he couldn't
help the Lakers avoid season lows for points in a half (35) and
field-goal percentage (34.2). They trailed 53-35 at the break.

"We didn't have any rhythm. It was gross," Walton said.

The Lakers scored a season-worst 10 points in the first quarter,
when they committed nine turnovers and shot 20 percent.

Game notes
The Lakers are 10-3 when Bryant scores 50 or more points.
He had 52 against Utah on Nov. 30. ... The Rockets fell to 9-33
overall without McGrady in the lineup. He remained at the team
hotel to receive treatment, but is expected to play sometime during
the road trip that ends next Friday in San Antonio, a team
spokesman said.