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Lakers sweep Rockets series

THE Los Angeles Lakers returned home for a 93-81 victory over the visiting Houston Rockets on Friday, their 60th win of the season.

Pau Gasol had 23 points and 10 rebounds while Kobe Bryant added 20 and seven assists to help the Lakers sweep the season series against the Rockets for the first time since the 2001-02 campaign

"This was an important game for us to send a message. This is a team that we could potentially see down the line," Lakers guard Derek Fisher told reporters after scoring 15 points.

"Defensively we're starting to show some signs. We kept this team down in the 80s, and that's because of good solid defense."

Los Angeles (60-16), coming off a seven-game road trip in which they picked up five wins, pulled within one game of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the National Basketball Association's top record.

Ron Artest scored a team-high 21 points while Yao Ming recorded 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Rockets (48-28), who lost their second straight game and the third in their last four contests.

Houston fell to fifth place in the bunched-up West table, with six games remaining.

In other NBA games, it was: Magic 116, Cavaliers 87; Heat 97, Bobcats 92; Celtics 104, Hawks 92; Spurs 126, Pacers 121; Suns 139, Kings 111; Trail Blazers 107, Thunder 72; Grizzlies 107, Mavericks 102; Timberwolves 103, Jazz 102; and Warriors 111, Hornets 103.

In Los Angeles, the Rockets trailed just 68-69 with 10:11 remaining before a previously quiet Bryant used a quick flurry to put the game out of reach.

Bryant, who attempted only 11 shots, made three straight jumpers, including two three-pointers late in the game, to build an 87-76 lead for the Lakers with 3:55 left at Staples Center.

Neither team shot the ball particularly well, but Los Angeles had the league's reigning MVP to make plays when it needed them.

"I thought for a return game off a road trip it was okay," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

"We shot the ball poorly - we'll have to do a better job of that. We called that a mud-wrestling contest out there tonight for a while."

Los Angeles' win total is its highest since winning 67 games in the 1999-2000 season, a year in which it also captured the NBA championship.

The Western Conference-leading Lakers are also closer to having back center Andrew Bynum, out with a knee injury since the beginning of February, and could see the big man back in action before the end of the regular season.

The Rockets have gone 16-7 since losing guard Tracy McGrady to season-ending knee surgery, and are a game behind the San Antonio Spurs for the Southwest Division lead.


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