HOUSTON — Wesley Johnson converted a critical 3-point play with 43.2 seconds left in the game as the Los Angeles Lakers completed a stunning rally to topple the Houston Rockets 98-92 on Wednesday night at Toyota Center.
One night after winning their first road game in Atlanta, the Lakers (3-9) closed the game with a 12-1 run to defeat the Rockets (9-3), who played without center Dwight Howard (strained knee). Johnson pushed the Lakers in front to stay with his transition basket, stealing the ball from Rockets guard James Harden before scoring through a Harden foul.
Johnson gave the Lakers a 94-92 lead with his play. Harden scored the last Houston basket with 2:42 remaining and finished with 24 points and seven assists. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant tallied 29 points and seven assists while center Jordan Hill added 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Harden converted a pair of free throws with 6:09 remaining that pushed Houston back in front 83-82 and his 3-point play with the shot clock winding down extended that lead to four 57 seconds later.
Then, following a driving layup by Bryant, Harden picked the pocket of Lakers forward Carlos Boozer and threaded a pass to Rockets forward Kostas Papanikolaou, who converted a layup through a foul. Papanikolaou hit the free throw to up the lead to 89-84 with 4:22 left.
Papanikolaou scored a career high 19 points and added six rebounds.
While the Rockets certainly missed Howard early — Houston managed just 14 points in the paint and two offensive rebounds in the first half — their perimeter shooting was accurate enough to offset his absence.
The Rockets hit half of their 10 3-point attempts in the first quarter and carried a 23-21 lead into the second. They shot 4 of 9 from behind the arc in the second but failed to maintain their lead after Bryant warmed up and carried the Lakers for a critical stretch offensively.
Bryant finished 5-for-5 in the period and delivered his usual breathtaking array of shot-making. His 18-foot, step-back jumper pushed the Lakers in front 42-40 with 4:36 left in the half, and his baseline jumper knotted the score at 47-47 with 2:19 remaining.
And, with 3.7 seconds before the intermission, Bryant beat Rockets forward Trevor Ariza off the dribble for a layup that cut the deficit to 51-49.
NOTES: Lakers G Jeremy Lin returned to Houston on the heels of an impressive game, 15 points and 10 assists Tuesday night at Atlanta. Lin spent two inconsistent seasons with the Rockets before being traded to Los Angeles during the offseason. … Houston coach Kevin McHale said somewhat cryptically that Rockets F Terrence Jones isn’t close to a return from left leg nerve inflammation. Jones missed his eighth consecutive game Wednesday night. … The return of Lakers F/G Nick Young should alleviate some of the offensive burden heaped upon Lakers G Kobe Bryant. While Bryant led the NBA in scoring at 27.4 points per game through Tuesday, he had taken 27 more shots and missed 34 more attempts than Knicks F Carmelo Anthony, who ranked second in both categories. … During their three-game offensive slump, the Rockets posted an offensive rating (86.6), effective field goal percentage (41.4) and turnover ratio (20.4) that would rank last in the NBA if extrapolated over an entire season.
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