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Rockets welcome Smith’s contribution in OT win

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — After his first game in a Houston Rockets uniform, veteran Josh Smith called it a “great opportunity for me.”

But judging by all that he did in the Rockets’ 117-111 overtime victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night at FedExForum, his addition and that of veteran Corey Brewer looks to be a fantastic opportunity for the Rockets and bad news for the Western Conference.

While guard James Harden scored 32 points and just missed a triple-double (10 assists and eight rebounds), Smith’s 21 points and eight rebounds off the bench, plus his overall dynamic play, was the main narrative. The Detroit Pistons released Smith earlier this week and the Rockets signed him to a contract on Friday morning.

Brewer, playing in just his second game for the Rockets since being acquired from Minnesota, scored 13 points.

“You add them to what we already had and we’ve got something special,” Harden said.

Rockets coach Kevin McHale said, “Josh Smith is a guy you can do a lot of things with. He can score in the post. He can pass. He gives us versatility. He can guard big guys or smaller guys.”

Houston (21-7) seized the Southwest Division lead from the Grizzlies (21-8), who lost their season-high fourth straight game despite 29 points and eight rebounds from center Marc Gasol.

“They are loaded,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said of the Rockets. “(Smith and Brewer) are starters on most teams in the league. So it just keeps adding to their athleticism.”

The Grizzlies led by as many as 14 points in the second quarter but had to rally from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter behind some late clutch shooting from forward Vince Carter (10 points). Carter hit a 3-pointer with 1:33 left to put Memphis up 101-100 and then struck again with 28.7 seconds left, knocking down a 3-pointer for a 104-102 lead.

A driving layup by Harden tied the score at 104 with 15.5 seconds remaining. Gasol got off a jumper with 0.1 of a second on the clock but missed.

Houston scored the first five points of overtime. The Grizzlies got back within two points but never led. Smith wrestled a rebound away from Carter with 1:10 to go, was fouled and hit two free throws to hike Houston’s lead to 113-109.

The Rockets also showed they weren’t afraid to run isolation plays for Smith in the fourth quarter.

“They think big of my talents,” Smith said. “When you’ve played a lot of years like I have, it’s not that hard (to adjust) — especially when you know a lot of the guys in the locker room.”

The overtime was also notable because Houston center Dwight Howard (11 rebounds and six points) went 4 of 4 from the free-throw line after missing the first four free throws he shot Friday night. He was even having trouble with one of his contact lenses before hitting the first free throw in OT.

“Just had to focus,” he said.

Houston shot 45.1 percent from the field (41 of 91) and 41.2 percent from 3-point range (14 of 34).

Forward Trevor Ariza, who finished with 15 points, led the Rockets with four made 3s and also had 10 rebounds. Guard Jason Terry (nine points) hurt the Grizzlies with three 3-pointers, including two in the fourth quarter.

The Rockets also had a 54-44 edge in rebounds, taking advantage of Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph’s absence (sore knee).

Memphis shot 41.3 percent (43 of 104) from the floor and was 7 of 24 from 3-point distance (29.2 percent).

Backup point guard Beno Udrih finished with 17 points and swingman Quincy Pondexter scored 14 points for Memphis. Starting point guard Mike Conley had 11 points and seven assists but was just 4 of 15 from the floor.

“We look at the standings every day,” said Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (10 points, six assists). “We just have to stay confident and move on to the next one.”

NOTES: F Josh Smith, who was waived by Detroit earlier this week, signed with Houston on Friday and went through the Rockets’ morning shootaround. Smith, 29, has averaged 15.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 11 NBA seasons. … To make room for Smith, the Rockets released backup C Tarik Black. … Grizzlies swingman Tony Allen, who had missed four games with a right corneal abrasion, was expected to be available Friday night. However, PF Zach Randolph (sore right knee) sat out for the third straight game. Randolph averages a double-double with 16.1 points and 11.4 rebounds. Rockets coach Kevin McHale said Randolph’s absence would change the Grizzlies’ approach. “(Marc) Gasol and Zach are fantastic together,” McHale said. “They’re hard to deal with. Not having Randolph, they play differently.” … The Grizzlies have a franchise-record low four turnovers twice in the last three games but lost both games.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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