LOS ANGELES, Feb. 18 (Ticker) -- The Los Angeles Lakers started the game without Shaquille O'Neal and ended it after Yao Ming fouled out.

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Kobe Bryant scored 17 of his season-high 52 points after regulation as the Lakers posted a 106-99 double-overtime victory over the struggling Rockets.

O'Neal missed his second straight game with a sore left knee, thwarting any chance for a rematch with Yao Ming. The Chinese rookie dominated inside, collecting 24 points and 14 rebounds, but the game shifted when he fouled out with 29 seconds left in the first overtime.

"It was very unfortunate losing Yao in a situation where he was doing a great job," Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "With games like this, with something on the line, I think he responded in a really big way."

"That's who we were going to, so it affected us big-time," Rockets guard Cuttino Mobley added. "The rest of us weren't really mobile at the time. We didn't have a rhthym at the time, so it affected us a little bit."

Bryant overcame an injured right knee and scored all nine of Los Angeles' points in the first extra session, then forced a second overtime by burying a turnaround jumper with 19.7 seconds left.

He had eight points in the decisive period and recorded an assist on Mark Madsen's dunk that gave Los Angeles the lead for good at 95-93 with 3:58 remaining.

"My teammates are looking for me to carry the load," Bryant said. "It's a huge responsibility, especially in overtime."

Bryant reached the 40-point mark for the sixth straight game and has at least 35 points in his last 10 - both franchise records. He eclipsed his previous season high of 51 points, set Wednesday at Denver.

"I can't really grasp it," Bryant said. "I just go out and play. Maybe when I retire I'll look back and say, `Wow.'"

The All-Star guard made 19-of-38 shots from the floor, including 3-of-9 3-pointers, and was 11-of-11 from the free-throw line. He collected eight rebounds, seven assists and three blocks in a career-high 54 minutes.

"Phil (coach Phil Jackson) said this morning that this is the biggest game of the year. That is a challenge I can respond to," Bryant said. "I will worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. The fact that it was the biggest game of the year meant a lot to me and a lot to us, and I have to come out and play."

Rick Fox scored 15 points, Derek Fisher added 13 and Robert Horry collected eight points, 11 rebounds and six assists as Los Angeles won for the eighth time in 10 games.

Steve Francis scored 17 points and Mobley and Maurice Taylor added 16 apiece for the Rockets, who have lost five of their last six games and fell into a tie with the Lakers for eighth place in the Western Conference.

"It hurts big-time," Tomjanovich said. "We're trying to grow up. This was a big one right here. We have to go through this stuff. We have to play games with something on the line and learn from it."

Los Angeles had a 74-62 lead with 7:36 left in the fourth quarter before Houston reeled off 13 straight points.

Taylor scored the first nine during the stretch and former Laker Glen Rice capped it with a jumper for a 75-74 lead with 3:46 remaining.

"I thought we did a good job in the fourth quarter making a comeback," Tomjanovich said. "What an emotional roller coaster of a game."

Bryant answered with a 3-pointer and Horry buried a shot from beyond the arc with 1:42 left to give Los Angeles an 82-79 edge. Taylor made 1-of-2 free throws with 92 seconds to go and Yao buried a pair from the line to forge an 82-82 tie with eight seconds left.

Bryant missed a contested jumper from the left wing as time expired.

Francis buried a 3-pointer with 1:49 left in the first overtime for a 91-87 lead. Bryant made two free throws 58 seconds later and forged a tie with a short jumper over Mobley, who had his shot at the buzzer blocked by Madsen.

Houston's Kelvin Cato opened the second overtime with a tip shot, but Los Angeles scored 13 of the next 16 points. Fisher had a three-point play and a jumper in a 37-second span after scoring just eight points in the first 55 minutes.