LOS ANGELES, Nov. 17 (Ticker) -- Yao Ming has a date with Charles Barkley.

Forcing the boisterous Barkley to back up a bold statement, Yao had a breakthrough game with a season-high 20 points as the Houston Rockets survived an electrifying performance by Kobe Bryant in a 93-89 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

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The top pick in the 2002 draft, Yao has struggled as he tries to learn American ways and NBA basketball. On TNT's postgame show Thursday night, co-host Barkley said he would "kiss his (rear)" if Yao scored 19 points in a game.

"I don't think Yao will let him," Rockets guard Steve Francis said. "His customs and respect for himself are pretty high in order for him to do something like that. I guess Charles was just joking when he made that comment."

Barkley may have to pucker up. The 7-5 Chinese rookie was 9-of-9 from the field as he displayed an up-and-under move and a deadly perimeter jumper, several of the skills that had scouts raving about him over the summer.

"I have realized on offense that I have to take advantage of my opportunities on offense and be more aggressive," Yao said through an interpreter.

"He understands basketball stuff very well," Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "he had a great practice yesterday and it's coming to him. Then he just used different shots. I can't be happier with his progress."

Bryant won shootouts with Yao in the second quarter and Francis in the fourth period on his way to a season-high 46 points. But he came up empty on an uncontested finger roll with Los Angeles trailing, 90-89, with nine seconds left. Cuttino Mobley made two free throws for a three-point cushion and Bryant missed a contested 3-pointer with one second left.

"The shot should have fell, but we still had a lot of missed opportunities before that to do something positive," Bryant said. "They came over to take a charge and I didn't want to run over the guy, so I hopped-skipped it and the ball just didn't roll in for me."

Francis scored 27 points for the Rockets, who ended a seven-game skid to the Lakers. Maurice Taylor had nine points and Francis added five to fuel a 17-4 run - much of which came with Bryant on the bench - as Houston took a 76-68 lead with just over eight minutes left.

Bryant energized a comeback, scoring 13 straight Lakers points, including a 3-pointer to slice the deficit to 87-86 with 1:46 to go.

The Rockets got a nifty pass from rookie Juaquin Hawkins to Yao, who converted a layup and fouled out Samaki Walker in the process. Yao completed the three-point play for his final points with 60 seconds to go.

"He's long, you know," Walker said. "That helps offensively. Offensively, he played well. But there's no comparison (to Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal). No comparison."

"He has all the skills to be effective in the league," Bryant said. "It's just a matter of his determination, his confidence and his belief in himself. He hurt us tonight. We were soft in the middle and he took advantage tonight."

Derek Fisher snapped Bryant's string with a 3-pointer and the Lakers got the ball back when Houston had a shot-clock violation. Bryant, who made tough shots all game, was isolated and took it straight to the basket but back-rimmed one of his easiest looks.

"It happens; ask Houston. Francis missed a layup in the final seconds of the Phoenix game on Friday night and they lost a one-point game," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "It happens to players, it's a shot you have to make but it certainly surprised all of us."

Yao's second quarter was his best basketball to date. He went right past Slava Medvedenko on one move and put home a dunk off a feed from Francis on another. He scored 12 points in the period, but Bryant overshadowed him with 16 of his own.

One of Yao's more surprising plays was an aggressive offensive rebound he grabbed over two Lakers before banking it in, the kind of play that many Rockets had been waiting for in addition to some dunks.

"I was happy that he was aggressive and dunking the ball," Francis said. "From his country, you are not supposed to dunk the ball, but we have been on his back from day one saying that if you do not dunk the ball, you are not going to score."

Yao's 23 minutes were one shy of a season high.

"There was never any doubt in our mind that he can play," Taylor said. "We knew that once he got comfortable, the games were going to get better and the minutes that he will get are going to be better. You saw the finished product tonight."

"I haven't seen him a whole lot yet, but he sure did (well) tonight," Lakers forward Rick Fox said. "His presence in the middle was a little overwhelming."

Bryant had 15 points in the fourth to 11 for Francis, who matched Bryant on several possessions with clutch shots down the stretch. Taylor, Francis and Yao each had consecutive three-point plays. Yao cupped the ball with one hand before being fouled by Tracy Murray.

Yao added six rebounds as he played the entire fourth quarter after sitting out the third period. The game was supposed to be his first showdown with an injured O'Neal, who made brash remarks about what he would do to Yao when the two met up. O'Neal had complimentary things to say about Yao before the game.

"Congratulations to Mr. Ming," O'Neal said. "He's done a lot for his country. He shall be 'The Man' in a few years to come. But for a rookie he's doing A-plus work. However, whenever you have a guy who comes in like that you must taken it to him before he takes it to you. That will be my job."

Bryant made 19-of-37 shots and 9-of-11 from the line in another virtuoso performance for Los Angeles. He had little help from his teammates as Fisher chipped in 17 points and no other Laker reached double figures. Los Angeles fell for the seventh time in 10 games.

"Well, we won't easily forget what these first 10 games have felt like, that's for sure," Fox said. "We've got a lot of catching up to do."