Charles Barkley had plenty in reserve. Barkley, coming off the bench for only the third time in four seasons, grabbed 21 rebounds and scored 12 points as the Houston Rockets beat the Seattle SuperSonics 97-83 Tuesday night.
"I take my hat off to him," said Kevin Willis, who started in Barkley's forward spot. "That's the sign of a professional. He's willing to sacrifice for the team. "It looks like it's going to work well. We've put all our egos aside and we're just going to win games."
Barkley played 33 minutes, only two under his season average. "It doesn't bother me (not starting). I just want to play well," he said. Clyde Drexler scored 19 points for the Rockets and Hakeem Olajuwon had 12 points and 10 rebounds in his first start since November.
Olajuwon who was placed on the injury list Nov. 25 prior to knee surgery, returned to the active roster on Feb. 3 and played in two games as a reserve prior to the All-Star break "With this lineup it even makes Kevin more important for us," Eddie Johnson said. "Now, when you get past Dream you have Kevin. It's like having two 7-footers to get through." Gary Payton led the SuperSonics with 20 points, but scored only three points in the second half on 1-for-9 shooting. Vin Baker added 15 points for the Sonics.
Drexler led a 12-0 run early in the third quarter, when the SuperSonics went 5:02 without a point and ended up tying their season-low with nine points on 3-for-18 shooting. "We didn't shoot the ball well and they got very physical with us," Payton said. "The whole team just missed shots. The All-Star game had nothing to do with our effort."
The Rockets led 72-64 after three periods, then opened the final quarter with an 11-1 run to break the game open. "That's the best I've seen them play all year defensively," Sonics coach George Karl said of the Rockets. "They came after us hard and played physically. They're a proud veteran team and they came back hard." Seattle was 7-for-17 from 3-point range in the first half and led 40-27 before the Rockets cut the margin to 48-43 with 1:52 left.
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