Even without Lamar Odom'shelp in the paint, the Los Angeles Lakers were able to hold off a desperate rally by the Houston Rockets earlier this week.

With Odom now out for at least a month, the Lakers will again try to make do without one of their top defensive players against Yao Ming and the Rockets as two of the Western Conference's top teams meet Friday.

Odom sprained his right knee Tuesday in a 102-94 win at Houston (14-8) as the Lakers (15-7) squandered almost all of a 28-point fourth-quarter lead against Houston's reserves.

Yao - who scored 26 points - missed a shot and committed a turnover early in the fourth quarter before being replaced. He re-entered the game in the final minute but did not score.

Los Angeles, though, missed Odom's defense Wednesday in a 110-101 loss to Dallas.

The Lakers gave up their most points in 10 games as the Mavericks shot a season-high 60 percent (39-of-65). The loss also dropped Los Angeles one-half game behind Phoenix for the lead in the Pacific Division.

``We really missed him on the defensive end of the floor,'' Los Angeles guard Kobe Bryant said. ``We missed him big time.''

Odom, the team's top rebounder and second offensive option after Bryant, was a big reason why Los Angeles had won three straight and six of seven before Wednesday's setback.

Bryant had 33 points, seven rebounds and four assists, but there was a big drop-off after that. Vladimir Radmanovic, who started in Odom's place, had 11 points.

``It's a bit of a challenge,'' Bryant said. ``If this happened last year, we'd be in big trouble. We're deeper now, though. Radmanovic is getting a chance to get some more minutes out there. When Lamar comes back, we'll be a better team.''

Los Angeles has won three straight against Houston since a 76-74 loss at home Dec. 18. Bryant had 23 points, eight rebounds and seven assists Tuesday in the first meeting between the teams this season.

While Bryant and the Lakers continue to make adjustments without Odom, Yao has admirably tried to carry the Rockets offensively as Tracy McGrady remains sidelined with back spasms. The 7-6 center matched his season high with 38 points and grabbed a season-best 18 rebounds Thursday against Golden State in a 109-107 defeat.

Yao missed his final two shots in the closing seconds, sending the Rockets to consecutive losses for the first time this season while starting a five-game road trip.

``I'm tired, but I just didn't make that shot,'' said Yao, who has averaged 34.0 points his last three games. ``An early lead in this game, in the NBA, it doesn't mean that much. ... We still had a chance to win it. In the final 30 seconds, we're up four and they score six points. That's the game won right there.''

Luther Head picked up some of the offensive slack for McGrady again Thursday with a season-high 26 points and nine rebounds after scoring 21 against Los Angeles.

Head, the Rockets' first-round pick in 2005, has scored 20 points or more in consecutive games for the first time in his career.

Chuck Hayes, another second-year player, had nine rebounds for the Rockets. He is second on the team with 7.2 rebounds per game, but coach Jeff Van Gundy wants to see more consistency from the forward.

``Sometimes he's going to get in foul trouble. He's aggressive by nature,'' Van Gundy said. ``I'm more concerned about a lack of sustained energy for a three- or four-game period.''


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