HOUSTON (AP) -The Los Angeles Lakers have lost four straight for the first time since April 2007.
Their latest loss, a 109-99 defeat by the injury-depleted Houston Rockets on Wednesday night, prompted a reporter to ask Kobe Bryant if the Lakers have considered that they aren't as good as they think they are.
``How do you know how good we think we are? We're fine,' an obviously annoyed Bryant said. ``Are we going to win a three-peat today? Probably not, but the (expletive) is not played today.'
Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson denied being concerned about his team.
``Concern? It's way too early in the season, and we've got a long ways to go,' he said. ``We've got some guys struggling and need to get better.'
Kevin Martin scored 22 points and Shane Battier added 11 of his 17 in the final three minutes for the Rockets.
The Lakers led by three before Battier made consecutive 3-pointers to put Houston on top 100-97 with about 2 1/2 minutes remaining.
Bryant, who led the team with 27 points, made a pair of free throws before Battier hit a jump shot that caused the Lakers star to slump his shoulders and shake his head. Los Angeles was then called for a shot clock violation and Bryant missed a 3-pointer on the next trip down the court.
Battier was fouled by Derek Fisher on a 3-point attempt with 41.9 seconds remaining and hit all three free throws to make it 105-99. Houston made four free throws in the last few seconds to secure the win.
``In the fourth quarter, we did all of the things we've struggled with all year,' Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. ``We got most of the rebounds, we executed really well. Shane was huge ... it was just a solid win for us, obviously our best win of the year. We just hope we can build on this.'
Even Battier doesn't put much stock in the Lakers' recent woes.
``People are going to make a lot of their losing streak, but every team goes through it,' he said. ``We went through it, we're still going through it. Every team, I don't care how good you are, you go through lulls in the season. They're too talented for theirs to last too long. Expect them to go on a winning streak here very soon.'
Bryant approached Battier and patted him on the chest at the end of the game before Battier raised a hand to the crowd and left the court to loud cheers.
Bryant is concerned about the play of the Lakers' defense.
``We've got to do a better job,' he said. ``Houston shot 50 percent tonight ... that's unacceptable for our defense. We're slow. We're slow on rotations. It looks like we're kind of running in quicksand a little.'
It was a big win for the undermanned Rockets, who are playing without center Yao Ming and guard Aaron Brooks, who are out indefinitely with ankle injuries.
Luis Scola had 14 points and nine rebounds for the Rockets, and Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill added 10 points apiece.
The Rockets cut the lead to 93-90 with about five minutes left thanks to Martin hitting all three free throws after being fouled by Bryant on a 3-point attempt. Kyle Lowry followed with another 3-pointer.
Houston led by two points early in the fourth quarter before an 11-2 scoring spurt capped by a 3-pointer by Steve Blake put Los Angeles ahead 89-82.
A layup by Martin tied the game at 66 midway through the third quarter and the teams tied and exchanged the lead several more times in the third quarter. A 3-pointer by Lowry tied it again near the end of the period, but Shannon Brown made a pair of free throws to put the Lakers ahead 78-76 entering the fourth quarter.
Lamar Odom had a season-high 25 points with 11 rebounds and two blocks, but did not score in the fourth quarter. Matt Barnes added 14 points and eight rebounds.
Houston used a 13-2 run in the final minutes of the first half to cut the lead to one point, but Bryant hit a jump shot at the buzzer to give Los Angeles a 56-53 halftime lead.
The Rockets got within four points about six minutes before halftime but a 3-pointer by Shannon Brown followed by a pair of free throws by Bryant stretched the lead to 45-36.
Houston led by two points after a 3-pointer by Budinger with about a minute left in the first quarter. Then Los Angeles went on an 11-2 run fueled by five points from Odom to take a 32-25 lead early in the second quarter.
NOTES: Pau Gasol struggled with a tight hamstring on Wednesday and said he hopes it will be better with rest. ... Yao, who has missed the last 11 games with his injury, drew a small crowd while shooting on Houston's practice court about 90 minutes before the game. The onlookers peered through the glass and many took pictures and cell phone videos of the All-Star. ... Players from both teams wore red and white shooting shirts to raise awareness for Wednesday's World AIDS Day.
The Associated Press News Service
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