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Rockets Up End Lakers 90-88

Charles Barkley was sober, Matt Bullard was sick and Clyde Drexler stuck with it after a dreadful shooting performance.

Barkley scored 26 points - including a tiebreaking 20-foot jumper with 3.6 seconds remaining - Drexler made a critical 3-point play in the final four minutes and Bullard scored nine of his 11 points from behind the 3-point arc Sunday in a 90-88 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Hakeem Olajuwon added 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Rockets, who won for the fourth time in their last six visits to the Forum and avoided a four-game season sweep by the Lakers.

Shaquille O'Neal, Rick Fox and Kobe Bryant each scored 18 points for the Lakers, who fell three games behind division rival Seattle in the race for the NBA's best record. The loss was their first in 18 games this season against Midwest Division teams.

O'Neal tied it at 88 when he lost Olajuwon under the basket and slammed it home with 25.8 seconds to play. Barkley, who admitted to having a drinking problem earlier this season during NBC's pregame show, calmly hit his game-winner over Elden Campbell from the left of the key.

"I've got to stop drinking. I drink way too much and it has been affecting my game," Barkley reiterated after the game. "I haven't played as well as I would have liked to this season, and obviously drinking has something to do with it."

Barkley, who made his decision about a month ago after talking to a couple of friends, said that none of his teammates or coaches pressured him into doing it. But he contradicted his earlier remarks by insisting that his newfound sobriety had little if any effect on Sunday's performance.

"The last time I played on NBC, against the Bulls, I had like 35 points and 20 rebounds - and I had been out drinking all night the night before in Chicago," Barkley admitted. "But it's just been consistently wearing my body down and I wasn't as consistent as I need to be or would like to be. I owe the people I work for an honest effort."

Drexler, who missed his first nine shots from the field and finished 2-for-16, put the Rockets ahead 84-82 when he drove the left baseline for a layup and converted the three-point play with three minutes left.

"They played great defense all day and made sure I didn't hurt them," Drexler said. "They doubled on the pick-and-rolls and tried to make me give the ball up. But other than that, I couldn't make a shot."

Nick Van Exel, who missed all nine of his field goal attempts, had the ball in his hands after an inbound pass from Eddie Jones. But his 18-footer from straight away missed and Bryant's tip-in try also failed at the buzzer.

"Nick came down and shot it, maybe he got fouled and maybe he didn't. But whenever we have a game like this, our guys have to hit shots," O'Neal said. "Guys just need to come out and work on their shots. In order for us to be successful, we need to have an inside-outside game."

Bullard, who was held out of Houston's starting lineup because of a viral infection, made a pair of 3-pointers and a 15-foot jumper in a 2:15 span to turn a two-point deficit into a 68-62 lead with 1:47 left in the third quarter.

"I feel really awful, actually," Bullard said. But I guess sometimes when you're pretty sick, you just don't really have high expectations of yourself."

Lakers forward Robert Horry left the game with 9:55 left in the third quarter. He aggravated an earlier injury that has been diagnosed as a varicocele - a dilated vein in the groin area that causes pain and discomfort. Horry will see a urologist on Monday for further evaluation.

Notes: Eddie Johnson made his first start of the season - and only his fourth in 157 games over the past four seasons. The 17-year veteran guard - whose 18,912 career points are more than any player in NBA history with fewer than 500 starts - is the only player in league history to score at least 18,000 points and never be selected for an All-Star Game. ... Barkley's teams are 28-7 when he's been used as a reserve.

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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