Phoenix defeats Rockets for 3rd straight


PHOENIX, AP

One night on the bench during crunch time was enough for Clifford Robinson. Robinson, who sat out the final minutes of a victory over the Nuggets in Denver the night before because Phoenix coach Scott Skiles thought he wasn’t trying hard enough, scored a season-high 30 points in a 104-99 win over the Houston Rockets on Sunday night. He was on the floor for 32 minutes the previous game and 41 in this one as the Suns won their third straight after an opening loss. “Cliff picked it up tonight,” Jason Kidd said. “Like I said, anybody on any given night can take their turn, and that’s the way we’re supposed to win. We’ve got to protect homecourt, and we did our job.” The Suns withstood a 19-point fourth quarter by Cuttino Mobley, a reserve guard who finished with 27 points. He got the Rockets to 98-95 on a short jumper in the lane with 46 seconds remaining. But he fouled out 18 seconds later and Robinson made two free throws to give Phoenix breathing room. Mobley had 33 points in a season-opening loss to Minnesota, and another big game in another defeat hurt. “We can’t win when we play bad as a team like that,” said Mobley, who was 7-for-10 from the field in the quarter. “They pay me to come in and give a spark, and I am not doing that.” Rodney Rogers had 18 points and Kidd had 18 points and nine assists. Steve Francis scored a season-high 24 points for Houston, which lost for the third time in four games this season. Francis made a layup with 20 seconds left — trimming Houston’s deficit to 100-97 — and was fouled by Ruben Garces. But Francis missed the free throw and Garces got the rebound. That led to two more free throws by Robinson and Kidd in the closing seconds.

“The last few games I haven’t been getting to the free-throw line as much as I would like,” said Robinson, who made all 12 foul shots.

“Tonight, I just decided to try to be a little more aggressive and take the ball to the basket and get some opportunities.” The Suns took an 80-66 lead on Rogers’ layup 100 into the fourth quarter, but Mobley had all the Rockets’ points in a 10-2 spurt over the next two minutes, and Houston got to 84-79 on Kenny Thomas’ 3-pointer with 708 left in the game. Robinson had 10 points in the first quarter, and the Suns led most of the way without being able to put any distance between themselves and the Rockets. It was more of the same in the second, as the teams battled through eight lead changes. But Houston went cold after Francis made a 3-pointer with 308 left in the quarter, and Phoenix finished with a 10-0 surge capped by Kidd’s buzzer-beating 30-footer to take a 51-43 halftime lead. “It was a big shot for me personally, because I didn’t think I was going to make a basket all night the way it was going,” Kidd said. Lakers 108, Clippers 103 Shaquille O’Neal scored 22 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter and had 14 rebounds as the Lakers beat the Clippers for the 14th consecutive time.

Reserve guard Isaiah Rider scored 15 of his 22 points to help the Lakers overcome a five-point deficit early in the fourth quarter. Kobe Bryant added 21 points for the Lakers. Lamar Odom had 19 points, 15 rebounds and six assists for the Clippers. Jeff McInnis also had 19 points, and Tyrone Nesby added 17. Down 77-72 with nine minutes remaining, the Lakers reeled off a 12-2 spurt over the next three minutes to go up 84-79, and were in front the rest of the way. Bryant had 12 first-half points and O’Neal 10 for the Lakers. The Clippers finished just 17-of-30 from the line, while the Lakers went 26-for-36.