Steve Blake connected on a 3-pointer with just 1.3 seconds remaining in regulation to give the Los Angeles Lakers a 99-98 road victory over the Houston Rockets.
In the first game between the two teams since Dwight Howard's decision to leave the Lakers after one season and sign an $88 million deal with Houston, the big man's woeful night at the free-throw line was a key factor in the Rockets' loss.
Howard scored 15 points and grabbed 14 rebounds Thursday night at the Toyota Center but Houston paid dearly for leaving him on the floor in the game's final stages, as Lakers' coach Mike D'Antoni repeatedly opted to foul the 6'11 forward and force him to make free throws down the stretch.
Over the game's final three-and-a-half minutes, Howard missed seven free throws to leave the door open for an improbable Lakers victory. Overall, Howard made just 5-of-16 attempts from the charity stripe.
On the Lakers' final possession, the Rockets' defense broke down and Blake was able to launch his game-winning 3-pointer despite Howard's effort to rush out to the perimeter and disrupt the shot.
Houston trailed by as many as 19 points in the first half and by 14 at halftime, but star guard James Harden - who finished the game with 35 points - led a second-half comeback that saw the Rockets take a 97-91 lead with 2:24 remaining.
The Lakers, who are playing without injured superstar Kobe Bryant and were forced to rely heavily on 3-point shooting, won despite scoring just 35 points in the second half and getting just two points in four quarters from Pau Gasol, who contributed on the boards with 12 rebounds.
The Lakers made 16 3-pointers compared to the Rockets' seven.
Reserve Jodie Meeks, who led all Lakers players with 18 points, led the way with five buckets from behind the arc, while Blake connected on four and Wesley Johnson came off the bench to make three.
Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin scored 16 points apiece for the Rockets in a losing effort.
The Lakers improved to 3-3, while the Rockets fell to 4-2. EFE