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Howard scores 23, Mutombo has five blocks in Rockets' win

HOUSTON (AP) -- Dikembe Mutombo swatted the shot by the kid half
his age, then wagged his index finger to the crowd's delight.

Mutombo stuffed another shot by Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew
Bynum 3 minutes later to move past Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and into
second place on the all-time blocks list.

The 40-year-old Mutombo had five blocks in all and matched a
season high with 19 rebounds in the Houston Rockets' 102-77 win
over the Lakers on Wednesday night. He now has 3,191 blocks, two
more than Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time list.

"When I came into the league 16 years ago, I told myself that I
just want to be remembered for one thing," Mutombo said, "just to
be one of the great defensive players to ever play this game."

The Rockets have won seven of nine games since Yao Ming broke a
bone in his right leg and much of it is due to the suddenly spry
Mutombo, who's had double-digit rebound totals in eight consecutive
games.

"It's amazing, just the way I'm playing," said the 7-foot-2
Mutombo. "Even to myself, I'm sitting down like, 'Whoa, is Mutombo
really playing like that?' I haven't seen myself jumping for a
rebound like that for a while."

Mutombo's three children -- ages 9, 5 and 3 -- have nagged him
lately about when he was going to pass Abdul-Jabbar. He had only
one block in each of Houston's last four games.

"Now, they're going to leave me alone," he said. "No more
asking, 'Daddy! When are you going to block all the shots and break
the record?"

Mutombo is still 639 blocks from all-time leader, former Rocket
and fellow African Hakeem Olajuwon. Mutombo hasn't said when he'll
retire, but promises he won't stick around long enough to threaten
Olajuwon's mark.

"I will leave that to my brother," he said. "He can keep that
torch for the next generation."

While Mutombo led the Rockets' stifling defense, Juwan Howard
scored a season-high 23 points and Rafer Alston added 20.

Houston also snapped a four-game losing streak to the Lakers
with little scoring help from Tracy McGrady, who'd topped 30 points
in each of his last six games. McGrady had only eight points and
appeared to aggravate his troublesome back late in the first half.
He also had 12 assists.

Kobe Bryant scored 20 points, but went 6-for-18 from the field,
for the Lakers, who were held to a season-low point total. Bryant
suffered a minor groin strain in the second quarter and left the
game with 3:33 left after playing 34 minutes.

Bryant said after the game the injury was "tight," but said he
would be ready to play on Friday against Orlando.

"I will let it chill and I should be fine," he said.

The Lakers shot 34 percent (26 of 76) and mustered a season-low
31 points in the second half.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Mutombo was only part of his
team's offensive struggles.

"The Rockets played good defense and Mutombo had some big
blocks and we couldn't shoot the ball in the second half," Jackson
said. "Our passing failed us and we didn't shoot the ball well."

The Rockets built an early seven-point lead despite McGrady's
2-for-6 start. Bryant scored 10 points in the second quarter during
an 11-4 spurt to pull to a 41-41 tie.

McGrady, who missed seven games last month with back spasms, was
fouled on a drive by Brian Cook in the final minute of the half and
winced in pain as he walked to the free-throw line. He missed both
shots and had only six points at the break, though he also had six
assists.

Alston, coming off a 2-for-14 shooting night against Chicago on
Monday, sank a 3-pointer, then drove for a layup early in the third
quarter as the Rockets rebuilt their seven-point lead.

McGrady badly missed his first three shots of the second half,
but Shane Battier swished 3-pointers to keep Houston in front.

After Mutombo's blocks on the 19-year-old Bynum, Alston scored
on two drives as the Rockets finished the third quarter with an 8-0
run and led 72-58. In the closing seconds of the quarter, Jackson
got ejected by referee Tony Brothers for protesting a no-call.

McGrady went to the bench with 10:14 left, but the Rockets still
pulled away. Howard scored twice inside, then hit a 20-footer to
boost the lead to 80-60.

Luther Head drove for an unlikely dunk over Ronny Turiaf with
4:44 left, putting the Rockets up 88-66 and finishing off the
Lakers.

Game notes
The Lakers lost for only the third time in their last 12
games with the Rockets in Houston. ... The Rockets improved to 8-0
this season when they score 100 points at home. ... Houston Texans
linebacker DeMeco Ryans and Tennessee quarterback and Houston
native Vince Young, the NFL's Defensive and Offensive Rookies of
the Year, sat at courtside, about 30 seats apart.