HOUSTON (NBA.com exclusive) -- Wednesday's game at Toyota Center was played up as a matchup between the Rockets' Trevor Ariza and the Lakers' Ron Artest, a pair of free agents who swapped teams in the offseason.
Oh, and the Lakers also had a guy named Kobe Bryant that drew a bit of attention.
But what drew the sellout crowd of 18,291 fans was far more compelling -- watching the NBA's loftiest example of aristocracy, the world champion Lakers, take on the league's most democratic team in the Rockets.
Score another one for the upper class.
The Lakers had to go overtime for the second consecutive night, but got 41 points from Bryant and key plays from Andrew Bynum to escape with a 103-102 victory over the Rockets.
"That was experience [at] winning games," said Lamar Odom when asked to explain how the Lakers managed to pull out the win. "That was just toughing it out. We hung in there and hung in there. Everyone hung in there."
Indeed, the Lakers had to roll up their exquisitely tailored sleeves and get to work, especially Bryant and Bynum.
Bryant scored six of his points in the extra session and was especially pleased to have former Rockets star Hakeem Olajuwon sitting at midcourt to witness the exhibition. Bryant, looking to hone his post moves, worked with Olajuwon in the offseason. He showed off what he learned by taking the Rockets' Shane Battier, their designated Kobe defender, down low on several possessions.
"Hakeem was very pleased with what I was doing," said Bryant after a postgame visit from Olajuwon. "It was an honor for me to have the opportunity to work with him, and I want to make him proud."
Funny, but if you had asked the Rockets, they probably would have thought that Bynum was the one who benefitted from some offseason tutoring from Olajuwon. He finished with 17 points and 17 rebounds (despite nursing a sprained right elbow) and knocked down three free throws in the final 44 seconds of overtime to seal the win.
"I feel fine," said Bynum, who added three blocks and a team-high five assists. "I tried to play defense the entire game. The elbow [hurts]. I can hardly lift it up."
Lifting the Lakers to the win was quite enough on this night.
For the Rockets, the loss was a dagger.
Just like in last year's playoffs, when Houston extended the Lakers to seven games despite crippling injuries, the Rockets gave the Lakers everything they had. But just like last year's playoffs, it wasn't quite enough.
"I thought we should have won," said Rockets coach Rick Adelman. "I thought we had a great chance of winning. I thought we should have won, but things happen and you have to move on."
Because of injuries to superstars Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, the Rockets have adopted an all-for-one, one-for-all approach to the game. Rather than one player scoring 50, the Rockets prefer to have four players each score 13. That was again the case against the Lakers, with the Rockets placing six players in double figures, led by Carl Landry's 20 points. And with 6-6 center Chuck Hayes (14 points, 14 rebounds) leading the way, the Rockets finished with a 54-48 edge off the glass.
"They play hard," Bryant said. "We knew coming in that they were going to play extremely, extremely hard. And that's what they did. They have some players... They have some guys who can hurt you."
But in the end, the Lakers had two things the Rockets did not possess -- Bryant and a 7-foot dominator in the post.
"When he plays like that, it makes it very difficult to try and defend us," said Bryant of Bynum. "Especially when we're going to him on the block and they have to double. It's tough, because he's so long that when he catches it up high you have no choice but to foul him."
The Lakers appeared to have won the game when Artest drilled a 3-pointer with 30 seconds to play for a 92-89 lead. But in what Jackson termed "poetic justice," the Rockets got a 3-pointer from Ariza with 14.2 seconds left that forced overtime.
"I didn't even think about it. I really didn't," said Ariza of his game-tying shot. "I just know I hit the 3 to tie the game and take it into overtime."
And that's when the Lakers, who were just one day removed from an overtime win at Oklahoma City, got to work. Again.
"We had to tough it out," said Artest, who finished with 15 points. "It was a hard game. It wasn't the type of game we wanted to play, but we showed mental toughness."