Dwight Howard struggled early but came on strong in the second half to lead the Houston Rockets to a 97-90 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.

The Rockets earned the victory despite the absence of the team's leading scorer, star shooting guard James Harden, who missed Tuesday's night game at the Toyota Center in Houston with a thumb injury.

Both teams shot poorly on the night, with the Rockets making just 44 percent of their field-goal attempts and the Spurs an even less efficient 42.7 percent.

The Spurs led by as many as 15 in the first quarter and took a seven-point lead into halftime, but the Rockets outscored San Antonio 33-18 in the third quarter to turn the game around.

In the fourth quarter, the Spurs opted for a "Hack-a-Howard" strategy of deliberately fouling the center on every possession and sending the notoriously poor free-throw shooter to the foul line.

The tactic backfired, however, as Howard made 10 of 16 attempts from the charity stripe down the stretch, above his season average of 52 percent.

Point guard Jeremy Lin was also a major factor in the victory, scoring 18 points and dishing out eight assists to outplay Spurs star Tony Parker, who finished the game with 17 points and just four assists.

Lin made a basket and two free throws in the final two minutes that helped secure the victory.

Forward Terrence Jones also had a strong night for the Rockets, scoring 21 points and snagging nine rebounds.

Center Boris Diaw was the high scorer for the Spurs with 22 points, while power forward Tim Duncan scored 12 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked four shots.

Argentine swingman Manu Ginobili poured in nine points in just 14 minutes of play for San Antonio, but he injured his hamstring on a dunk in the second half and left the game for good a short time later.

The Rockets improved to 30-17 and are currently in fifth place in the Western Conference, while the second-place Spurs fell to 33-12, 2 1/2 games behind the Oklahoma City Thunder.

In other action Tuesday night around the NBA, the New Orleans Pelicans defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 100-89, the Detroit Pistons cruised past the Orlando Magic 103-87, the New York Knicks routed the Boston Celtics 114-88, the Memphis Grizzlies trounced the Portland Trail Blazers 98-81, the Washington Wizards edged the Golden St. Warriors 88-85, and the Indiana Pacers topped the Los Angeles Lakers 104-92. EFE