Kobe, Lakers hold off Rockets at home
LOS ANGELES (AP)
The Lakers' emotions ran high when the lights went down at Staples Center. They walked to center court one at a time, accepting a gaudy ring before saying something heartfelt about the next teammate in line.
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The two-time NBA champions needed every bit of that family bond just to survive the first test in a season that's sure to be full of them.
Pau Gasol had 29 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers, who hung the golden banner celebrating their 16th NBA championship and handed out their impossibly ostentatious rings in a surprisingly touching pregame ceremony.
''It's always fun when this night comes and there's a chance to enjoy it,'' said Bryant, a five-time champion along with Derek Fisher. ''And tonight it was a little more special because we all introduced each other. It's special. We know the bond that we share, and for (Fisher) to bring me out there, that was great.''
But the champs then fell behind by 15 points before rallying for a fourth-quarter lead behind a 3-point barrage by Shannon Brown, who scored 14 of his 16 points in a 6 1/2-minute span.
The clubs traded the lead four times in the final minute, but Houston's Luis Scola missed a difficult scoop shot with 3 seconds left. After officials used a lengthy video review to award possession of the loose ball to Houston with 2.4 seconds to play, Aaron Brooks' layup attempt at the buzzer was blocked by Lamar Odom.
''Getting those rings, you're definitely on a high,'' said Brown, who turned down significant free-agent offers for a shot at a threepeat. ''You have to come back down, because that's history. That's something nobody can take away from you ever, but it doesn't help us in the next game.''
Kevin Martin scored 26 points and Brooks had 18 of his 24 in the first half of Houston's eighth loss in its last nine regular-season meetings with the Lakers.
Yao Ming had nine points and 11 rebounds before fouling out with 6:30 left in his first NBA game since the 2009 playoffs, also against the Lakers. The Chinese center missed last season after surgery on his left foot, yet the Rockets were in position for a stunning win until the buzzer.
''They're the world champs, and we knew it was going to be tough,'' Houston coach Rick Adelman said. ''But I thought we responded pretty well. I think (for) about seven minutes, we just didn't play the way we're capable of, and they got back in the game.''
Brooks blamed himself for the Rockets' failure in the final seconds after he curled underneath the basket.
''When I caught the ball, I didn't know exactly where I was on the floor,'' Brooks said. ''Then I took a dribble and realized where I was, and I tried to drive, but my leg kind of slipped.''
The Rockets didn't make the celebration easy in the Lakers' first real home game since that gut-wrenching, come-from-behind victory in Game 7 of the NBA finals four months ago. Los Angeles trailed by 11 points late in the third quarter before a 21-4 run featuring 12 consecutive points.
The Lakers understandably had a little trouble focusing after the pregame festivities.
The nine remaining Lakers' rings are small asteroids of excess designed by owner Jerry Buss. They feature 16 oversized diamonds for each Lakers title, a three-dimensional rendering of each player's face, and even a small piece of the leather from a basketball used in Game 7 of the NBA finals.
In contrast, the ring ceremony was all heart. NBA commissioner David Stern and Lakers executive Jeanie Buss stood at center court waiting for coach Phil Jackson, who accepted his 11th ring and said a few kind words before introducing forward Luke Walton, who introduced Odom, who introduced Ron Artest - all the way to Fisher introducing Bryant to thunderous applause.
''I think that the players were emboldened by the ring,'' Jackson said. ''I think they were excited about it, so that part of it, I thought was good. I just didn't think we played with the right speed and tempo in the first half. We got a lot of shots, not a lot of them good.''
The Lakers hung in with scoring from Bryant and Gasol, and Blake hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the final minute of the third quarter to trim Houston's lead to five points entering the fourth.
Brown's layup put the Lakers ahead 88-86 with 9:08 left near the end of the Lakers' big run, but Houston took a 108-107 lead with 53 seconds left. Gasol and Scola traded baskets before Blake came open on the perimeter and confidently drained his third 3-pointer.
''It feels great to contribute in your first game, but it's even better to win in your first game,'' Blake said.
NOTES: Walton missed the opener with a strained hamstring, while Houston F Chuck Hayes played through a sprained right ankle. ... Houston earned a season-opening win at Staples Center three years ago, before the Lakers acquired Gasol and began their run to three straight NBA finals. ... For the 27th straight year, Jeffrey Osborne sang the national anthem at the Lakers' opener. Courtside fans included Denzel Washington, David Beckham, Justin Bieber and Jaden Smith. Shaquille O'Neal's estranged wife, Shaunie, watched from one row behind Jeanie Buss.