Sunday, November 14, 2004

Rockets Come Up Short

Lamar Odom and his Los Angeles Lakers teammates helped coach Rudy Tomjanovich make a successful return against his former team.

Odom had 20 points, 13 rebounds and five assists to help the Lakers hold on for an 84-79 victory over the shorthanded Houston Rockets.

"I'm just glad it's over," an emotional Tomjanovich said. "Next time it will be just another game."

The Rockets honored Tomjanovich before the game with a video tribute. General manager Carroll Dawson, his former assistant, presented him with a framed painting of Tomjanovich coaching, his arms raised in triumph.

"The last time I talked to the public (in Houston) was a sad day for me," said Tomjanovich, who announced his retirement after the 2002 season due to bladder cancer. "I know in my heart you helped me beat cancer."

Tomjanovich spent 34 seasons with the Rockets as a player, scout, assistant, coach and a consultant last season, his final one in Houston.

"Sometimes I take a step back and say this is amazing," he said. "It's like a fairy tale. It was very emotional (tonight). This was great. I feel that every time I walk around Houston, people are so great to me."

Tomjanovich's No. 45 jersey hangs from the rafters, along with the two NBA championship banners that he guided the team to in 1994 and 1995.

"That was special," Lakers forward Caron Butler said. "(Rudy) was happy to be here. The crowd was unbelievable. It tells you a lot about him and the city of Houston.

"Rudy's a passionate guy," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant added. "He's a part of the game. It feels like he's part of the group. He listens to everybody's opinion."

Playing on a sore left foot, Bryant made just 7-for-20 shots but had 19 points and 11 rebounds.

"It was pretty sore tonight, for whatever reason," he said. "Tonight was one of the games I had to turn it up. I got great support from Lamar."

Acquired from Miami in the Shaquille O'Neal trade, Odom made 1-of-2 free throws with 19 seconds left to give the Lakers an 82-79 lead.

"We knew how much it meant to him," Odom said. "We let the other team back in it. But we played a really good defensive game.

The Lakers led 47-35 at halftime and Bryant scored LA's first nine points of the second half, part of an 12-2 run that opened a 59-37 bulge.

The Rockets rallied to take the lead at 76-75 with 5 1/2 minutes left on a 3-pointer by Tyronn Lue, his only basket of the game. But Chucky Atkins scored five points to help the Lakers reclaim an 81-78 edge.

With leading scorer Tracy McGrady sitting out his second straight game with a strained right hip, the Rockets received nearly all their offense from Yao Ming, who scored 32 points on 11-for-21 shooting. But Yao missed a dunk with 58 seconds left that would have made it a one-point game and 1-of-2 free throws with 25 seconds to go.

"His scoring was great," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "Obviously we need him to make the free throws down the stretch and rebound the ball better."

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