LANDOVER -- The home court jinx continued for the Washington Bullets last night, as the Houston Rockets survived a fourth-quarter rally for a 107-100 victory before a Capital Centre crowd of 14,617.
The Bullets (9-18), who had won three straight on the road, saw their home record drop to 2-9. This latest setback was primarily the result of inept foul shooting (17-for-28), including four straight misses by A.J. English, who led Washington with 26 points.
Hakeem Olajuwon topped the Rockets (16-10) with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Vernon Maxwell chipped in with 24, including his third three-pointer that gave Houston a four-point lead with 1 minute and 51 seconds remaining.
The Rockets, who began their four-game road trip by losing to New Jersey Thursday night, have managed to stay in contention with Utah and San Antonio for the Midwest Division lead despite losing Olajuwon for seven games with an irregular heartbeat.
Whenever Olajuwon has been sidelined, the other Rockets, and power forward Otis Thorpe in particular, have stepped up their contributions.
Before he was traded by Sacramento to Houston in 1988, Thorpe was coveted by the Bullets. The 6-foot-10 Providence graduate has since blossomed into one of the league's most versatile big men, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds this season.
"We always talked about someone having to move their game to a higher level," said Rockets coach Don Chaney, "but whenever Hakeem is out, Otis moves his game and emotions to another level. He moves into the pivot, and he's very effective at running the pick and roll."
When the Rockets beat the Bullets in Houston 11 days ago, it was Thorpe who did the most damage up front, scoring 16 points and grabbing nine rebounds. He also scored the game-winning layup in the closing seconds.
As they did in their first game with Houston, the Bullets concentrated on stopping Thorpe and Olajuwon inside. But this opened things up for guards Maxwell and Kenny Smith, who hit from outside to stake the Rockets to a 10-6 lead.
Washington had trouble working the ball inside against Olajuwon, who rejected a hook shot by Pervis Ellison. But crisp passing on the perimeter led to four points by Larry Stewart and fast-break layups by Michael Adams and Harvey Grant pushed the Bullets ahead, 17-14.
The Rockets countered with six straight points, but Ellison's scoop shot knotted it at 24. Baskets by Smith and Thorpe left Houston with a 28-24 lead after one quarter.
There were several lead changes in the opening minutes of the second quarter with Stewart working free underneath for layups. Thorpe and John Turner powered inside for Houston baskets, but Tom Hammonds' first basket produced a 39-39 tie.
After two more ties, Buck Johnson made a three-point play for a 46- 43 Houston edge. A jump shot and fast-break jam by English knotted it at 48, but Maxwell's breakaway layup gave the Rockets a 50-48 halftime advantage.
Olajuwon, with 12 points, was the only Rocket in double figures. Stewart led the Bullets with 11 and Ellison and English had 10. Adams made only two of 12 field-goal attempts in the first half as Washington shot 41 percent to 54 percent for Houston.
The Rockets padded their margin to 56-50 early in the second half before Stewart converted a rebound. But the Rockets turned consecutive Bullets turnovers into baskets by Maxwell for an eight-point cushion.
Maxwell stayed hot, hitting a three-pointer and feeding Johnson for a stuff and a 67-57 bulge. Tired of watching Maxwell make shots, Bullets coach Wes Unseld replaced David Wingate with English. Maxwell greeted the move by holing another three-point shot for a 74-63 lead.
The teams began trading baskets, but two strong driving shots by Thorpe gave the visitors an 80-67 spread. At this point, the Rockets had converted 11 of 12 shots.
Washington finally capitalized on its trapping defense and used a 6-0 tear to trim the deficit to 80-73 after three quarters.
The Bullets continued to peck away at the lead, pulling to within 86-85 on Adams' three-point play with nine minutes left.
With Houston clinging to an 88-87 lead, Maxwell was called for a flagrant foul for throwing an elbow at English. English missed both technicals. The Bullets began shooting bonus free throws with seven minutes remaining, but English missed two more from the line.
Washington finally reclaimed the lead, 91-90, on Hammonds' stuff off an English assist. But Olajuwon's short jumper pushed Houston back on top. Smith followed with two free throws and Thorpe made a layup for a 96-91 lead with just more than three minutes remaining.