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Rockets 90, Lakers 85

November 25, 1996

INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) _ When Shaquille O’Neal attempts free throws, they often turn out to be very costly to his team.

O’Neal’s problems at the foul line may have never been more pronounced than they were Sunday night, when he missed four in a row in the final 73 seconds of the Los Angeles Lakers’ 90-85 loss to the Houston Rockets.

O’Neal led the Lakers with 23 points and 11 rebounds, but he was 1-of-6 from the foul line in the fourth quarter and 3-of-11 in the game, dropping him to 45.8 percent (54-of-118) for the year.

In his four previous NBA seasons, all with Orlando, O’Neal made 54.6 percent of his free throws. He signed a $120 million, seven-year contract with the Lakers in July.

The Lakers led 85-83 when O’Neal misfired twice from the foul line with 1:13 remaining. Charles Barkley made a 3-point shot with 55.6 seconds left to put the Rockets on top 86-85 _ their first lead of the second half.

O’Neal missed another pair of free throws with 42.7 seconds to play.

Barkley made 1-of-2 free throws with 18.9 seconds to go, giving Houston a two-point lead.

Los Angeles reserve Jerome Kersey missed a forced 10-foot running shot with about six seconds left, and Houston’s Kevin Willis made a three-point play with 1.1 seconds remaining to complete the scoring.

``I have to take the blame,″ O’Neal said. ``I’ll just have to come out and try harder. I had a chance to personally pick up this team. I didn’t do it. He (Barkley) hit the big shots, but as I said, I had four chances and didn’t do it. It’s a very tough loss, but we have to move on.″

Barkley had 23 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists one night after his 27 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists helped the Rockets beat Golden State 120-115 in overtime.

``I got a good look at it, I got the shot that I wanted under the circumstances,″ Barkley said of his big 3-pointer. ``The game should never have been that close, they let us hang around. You have a nine-point lead at home, you should win the game.″

Instead, it was the Rockets (12-1) who won, extending their winning streak to six games since their only defeat _ a 126-115 double-overtime loss to the Lakers at Houston on Nov. 12.

The Rockets, who went nearly 10 minutes in the second and third quarters without a field goal, played without center Hakeem Olajuwon, who missed his third game after being hospitalized because of an irregular heartbeat last week.

Olajuwon, who scored 31 points in the first game between the teams, is expected to return to action Tuesday night against Portland.

Willis, who started in Olajuwon’s place, scored 12 of his 17 points in the first quarter and grabbed eight rebounds.

``He’s missed, believe me,″ Willis said of Olajuwon. ``(But) I know what it takes, I know what I have to do.″

Willis, 34, is playing in his first year with the Rockets and 13th in the NBA.

Clyde Drexler scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half and Mario Elie added 15 points for the Rockets, who outscored the Lakers 19-5 in the final six minutes and 9-0 in the last 1:37.

Drexler became the 24th NBA player 20,000-point plateau when he scored his seventh point of the game in the third quarter.

``And to win the game on top of it, it doesn’t get any better than that,″ Drexler said.

Sunday also was Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich’s 48th birthday.

``This win makes it very nice,″ Tomjanovich said. ``The Lakers and the Rockets have had two phenomenal games. To come in here without Hakeem and steal a win is really gratifying, especially after yesterday’s overtime game at Golden State.″

Nick Van Exel had 21 points and 12 assists and Eddie Jones added 14 points for the Lakers.

``It was a game we should have won,″ Jones said. ``It’s not Shaq’s fault, it’s a collective fault. It takes a big man _ someone with a big heart _ to take the blame. He’s trying to get everybody motivated.″

Rookie Derek Fisher made two free throws with 6:13 left to give the Lakers an 80-71 lead _ the largest of the game for either team _ before the Rockets began their winning rally.

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