Lakers defeat Rockets to take series lead

HOUSTON: Kobe Bryant poured in 33 points to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a 108-94 National Basketball Association playoff victory over Houston from which Rockets center Yao Ming limped away on a sore left ankle.

The victory gave Los Angeles a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference semi-final series.

Lamar Odom scored 16 points with 13 rebounds and reserve point guard Jordan Farmar had 12 points and seven assists standing in for suspended Derek Fisher, who had been tossed from game two for a hard foul on Houston's Luis Scola.

There was little sign of such rough play in game three until the Rockets' Ron Artest was ejected for a hard foul on Pau Gasol in the final minute.

Artest was ejected from game two for a verbal altercation with Bryant following Bryant's elbow to Artest's upper chest.

"I don't think that was a flagrant, maybe a flagrant one," Bryant said of Artest's ejection. "That rule is so all over the place, it's hard to judge. I'm an '80s baby, so that's just two shots and let's go."

Prior to the incident, Artest had 25 points for Houston while Yao scored 19 points with 14 rebounds to post his sixth straight double-double.

But the Rockets were held to just 14 points in the third quarter, and Yao was clearly hurting in the fourth, favoring the tender ankle that had already seen him sit out a practice session.

That's a big worry for the Rockets, who host game four on Sunday but saw their nine-game home winning streak broken.

The Rockets trailed 50-48 at halftime but missed 15 of their first 19 shots in the third.

"We had to get stops," Bryant said. "When they started desperation plays we were not able to get stops. In the third quarter and into the fourth quarter, we started to get stops and it sustained us."

Bryant closed the third quarter with a three-pointer shot that gave the Lakers a 74-62 advantage.

"It was a big play for us. It finished the quarter off the right way," he said.

Early in the fourth quarter, Houston's Von Wafer plowed into Sasha Vujacic on a three-point attempt and hit the floor.

Players from both teams streamed together, but Wafer walked away to defuse the situation.

His three free throws cut Houston's deficit to 81-71.

A layup by Artest and a dunk by Yao narrowed the gap to 90-84 with four minutes to play, but Houston couldn't get over the hump.