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Lakers top Rockets, Howard on last-second 3

The SportsXchange

HOUSTON -- Perhaps the easiest way for the Los Angeles Lakers to upstage their overhyped reunion with Dwight Howard was to showcase the style of play they fully adopted since he signed with Houston.

Lakers guard Steve Blake buried a 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds remaining to clinch a 99-98 win over the Rockets on Thursday night at Toyota Center.

Blake finished with 14 points as the Lakers (3-3) claimed their first road victory in three tries this year.

Los Angeles finished 16-for-35 from behind the arc but just 5-for-21 in the second half. Guard Jodie Meeks added 18 points and forward Wesley Johnson 16 on a combined 8-for-15 from 3-point range for the Lakers, who entered the night second in the NBA in 3-point attempts per game.

"We want 3s and layups. That's the way the game is going right now," said Blake, who was 4-for-6 on 3-pointers. "If we're making shots, we'll win games, and there's going to be games where we miss like Dallas (on Tuesday) and we won't (win). Let's just hope that we make more than we miss."

Guard James Harden paced the Rockets (4-2) with 35 points and pulled down nine rebounds, but he missed an isolation jumper with 12.9 seconds left that would have bumped the lead to four points. Howard, meanwhile, finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds, but the center's poor free-throw shooting played a critical role in the Lakers' late-game strategy.

Harden fed Chandler Parsons for a transition dunk with 3:52 remaining to give the Rockets a 93-91 lead, their first since Parsons hit a pull-up jumper to open the scoring in the first quarter. The Lakers responded by repeatedly fouling Howard intentionally, and Howard subsequently made five of 10 from the line to help keep the Rockets in the lead.

However, Howard missed two free throws with 53.8 seconds left after Parsons inexplicably fed him an inbounds pass in a one-possession game. Howard ultimately missed 11 of his 16 attempts from the foul line.

"It went real well because we took Harden out of the game," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said of the Hack-a-Howard strategy. "The tide turned, and Harden is tough to guard one-on-one. I'd rather have Dwight there instead of Harden."

Said Howard after the Rockets shot 33-for-52 from the foul line: "Our free throws were terrible. We just have to keep working. I have to get back in the gym and continue the work, and they will fall."

Trailing by as many as 19 points, Houston used a 15-3 run midway through the third quarter to surge back into contention and set the stage for a riveting fourth. Aside from a Howard dunk with 4:32 left in the period, Harden and Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin carried the load during the rally.

The Lakers set a breathtaking tone early with their scorching perimeter shooting, and just when their touch from behind the arc appeared unsustainable, the Lakers kept burying open 3-pointers to keep the Rockets at bay.

Johnson drilled a trey as the buzzer sounded to close the first quarter, the Lakers' sixth 3-pointer in nine attempts. That built the lead to 36-19, and it required a Herculean effort from Harden for Houston to rally.

Harden tallied seven consecutive points to pull the Rockets to within nine, following a 3-pointer with a three-point play resulting from a transition layup at the 7:30 mark of the second quarter.

However, Houston followed with a stretch in which it missed seven consecutive free throws, a wide-open Francisco Garcia 3-pointer, and a Harden-to-Parsons alley-oop. The Lakers proceeded to close the half with four additional 3-pointers without a miss and carried a 64-50 lead into the break on an unreal 11-for-14 effort from behind the arc.

"Our defense in the first half was terrible," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said.

NOTES: Lakers C Chris Kaman earned his first start of the season with F Shawne Williams relegated to the bench. Kaman was averaging 9.0 points and 5.6 rebounds while logging 16.6 minutes per game, and he had six points and 10 boards in 20 minutes Thursday. "Just trying to get more consistency and give us a better lineup to start the game with," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We had some success in the preseason and then (Kaman) got sick and we went away from it. But it's time to experiment a little bit more." ... Rockets G Patrick Beverley returned to the starting lineup after posting 12 points and four rebounds off the bench in his return from injury Tuesday night in Portland. G Jeremy Lin went to the bench. Beverley scored three points, while Lin had 16. ... In two games last season against his original organization, the Orlando Magic, while with the Lakers, Rockets C Dwight Howard totaled 60 points, 31 rebounds and three blocked shots. ... The Rockets assigned rookie G Isaiah Canaan and rookie F Robert Covington to their NBA Development League affiliate, Rio Grande Valley.
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