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Lakers fall short

Yao settles score at free throw line

When Lamar Odom put up a rare miss in the fourth quarter, Yao Ming didn't give him another chance to steal the game from the Houston Rockets.

Yao rebounded the carom and went on to make the winning free throws with 15.2 seconds left, leading the Rockets to a 103-102 victory over the visiting Los Angeles Lakers yesterday.

"I knew I could make that because I had missed too many before," said Yao, apparently unaware that he went 5 of 6 from the line en route to 23 points. "It's great to get the win."

Tracy McGrady had 21 points and Bob Sura had 19 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists, and 5 steals for the Rockets, who have won four straight and eight of their last 10.

Los Angeles forward Brian Cook missed a potential winning 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds to play, and the Lakers fumbled away the ensuing rebound as the clock expired.

Cook flashed a pained smile as the Rockets stormed onto the court, and Yao pumped his fist before running into a mob of teammates to celebrate another close win.

"When it came off my fingers, it felt good," Cook said. "If I had that shot again, I'd take it 10 more times."

Odom scored 14 of his 22 points in the final period, and Chucky Atkins added 21 for the Lakers, who came up just short in their bid to win for the first time under interim coach Frank Hamblen, who took over Wednesday when Rudy Tomjanovich resigned, citing health concerns. Hamblen, a 57-year-old career assistant, again lobbied for the return of Phil Jackson before the game.

76ers 106, Clippers 104 -- At Philadelphia, Allen Iverson scored 28 points, including the winning free throws with 1:01 to play, to lead the 76ers over Los Angeles. Neither team had much of a cushion in the final quarter, leading to a thrilling final few minutes and giving the sparse home crowd something to cheer about other than the Philadelphia Eagles' appearance in the Super Bowl a few hours later.

Iverson put the Sixers ahead, 104-101, on a 3-pointer with 1:44 left only to have Bobby Simmons of the Clippers answer with a 3-point play.

Iverson was fouled on the next possession by Elton Brand and calmly made the go-ahead free throws. The Clippers were then called for a shot-clock violation, but got another chance to tie when Corliss Williamson missed for Philly.

Rick Brunson went for the win, but his 3-point attempt was off the mark. Iverson grabbed the ball and hurled it into the air.

Mavericks 122, Raptors 113 -- Dirk Nowitzki had 30 points to help visiting Dallas outlast Toronto. Dallas led by as many as 25 points in the third quarter, but the Raptors cut it to 4 before Jason Terry's 3-pointer gave the Mavericks a 7-point lead with 36 seconds left.

Toronto had won its previous two games after rallying from deficits of 22 and 19 points.

Michael Finley added 23 points for the Mavericks, who shot a season-high 60 percent. Dallas had seven players reach double figures in scoring.

Chris Bosh had a career-high 29 points for the Raptors and Jalen Rose added 22.

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