Rockets Defeat Lakers 99-87

Friday, December 26th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The Houston Rockets limited the Los Angeles Lakers to one basket in a span of more than eight minutes in the fourth quarter during a 99-87 victory Thursday night.

``We're the No. 1 team in the league defensively, so that's our niche,'' Cuttino Mobley said after the game.

The Rockets entered having held their opponents to an NBA-best 39.4 percent field goal percentage. The Lakers, who entered shooting 47.0 percent to rank third in the league, made 32-of-85 shots (37.6 percent) including 6-of-21 in the final period.

``The fourth quarter, it just seemed like the ball wouldn't go in for any of us,'' said Kobe Bryant, who led the Lakers with 23 points, eight rebounds and six assists, but shot just 9-of-26 including 1-of-7 in the final period.

The Rockets, meanwhile, shot 36-of-81 (44.4 percent) including 8-of-16 in the fourth quarter.

``They made all the plays, they made all the big shots,'' Bryant said.

In other NBA games, it was Orlando 113, Cleveland 101 in overtime, and Dallas 111, Sacramento 103.

Shaquille O'Neal's matchup with Yao Ming was a push, but O'Neal was held without a field goal in the second half, missing all four shots he attempted.

``I think what hurt them is they didn't get the ball inside to Shaq enough,'' said Steve Francis, who led the Rockets (16-12) with 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

``I would agree,'' O'Neal said. ``But we've got to play defense. It's not what teams are doing to us, it's what we're doing to ourselves.''

O'Neal had 22 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots. Yao had 18 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.

Yao didn't play after committing his fifth foul with the game tied 77-all. The Rockets outscored the Lakers 22-10 after that.

``I would say most times we would go back to him,'' Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. ``We were doing a good job, so we just let it ride out.''

Gary Payton's jumper with 7 1/2 minutes left was Los Angeles' only field goal between a layup by Bryant with 9:26 remaining, when Yao committed his fifth foul, and a jumper by Devean George with 20.6 seconds to play.

The loss was the fourth in six games for the suddenly slumping Lakers (20-7), who appeared dominant during a 10-game winning streak.

They've allowed an average of 104.7 points in their last six games.

``We're not a very good team right now,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. ``We've just hit a slump in which we're not a very good basketball club. It's not about competing, it's about not being capable of competing because we're not good enough to compete right now.''

The Lakers played without Karl Malone, who missed his second game since spraining his right knee. Malone is expected to sit out against Boston on Sunday night before being re-evaluated.

``We got a call this morning saying he wasn't going to come even though I asked him to come,'' Jackson said. ``It's an unexcused absence we'll talk about.

``Some of it was the knee. He's still bothered by it. It's good for him to stay off it. We still want him to treat it. He'll miss one day.''

Jim Jackson scored 18 points, Mobley had 15, and Maurice Taylor added 14 for the Rockets, who blew a 16-point lead before their strong finish.

Mobley's free throw with 9:08 left snapped the 77-all tie and put Houston ahead for good. Consecutive 3-pointers by Mobley and Moochie Norris triggered a 10-1 run that made it 90-80 with a little under four minutes left, and the Lakers didn't pose a threat after that.

Magic 113, Cavaliers 101, OT

At Orlando, Fla., LeBron James scored 34 points for Cleveland but Tracy McGrady answered with 41 to lead the Magic.

Juwan Howard scored Orlando's first eight points in overtime, then McGrady made a pair of 3-pointers to finish with his second 40-plus game of the season. He also had eight rebounds and 11 assists.

Howard scored 19 points for Orlando, which has won seven of 10 since snapping a 19-game losing streak.

Mavericks 111, Kings 103

At Sacramento, Calif., Dirk Nowitzki had 31 points and 14 rebounds, and Antoine Walker made a 3-pointer with 1:04 left, helping Dallas snap a four-game losing streak.

Walker had 23 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, hitting five 3-pointers as the Mavericks got their fifth win in their last six regular-season games in Sacramento.

In just their second home loss of the season, the Kings played without suspended All-Star Peja Stojakovic and injured forward Chris Webber.