With Vin Baker in foul trouble and Gary Payton having a poor game, the Seattle SuperSonics turned to Hersey Hawkins.
Hawkins scored 16 of his 20 points in a six-minute span of the third quarter as Seattle defeated the Houston Rockets 103-95 Sunday in a possible first-round playoff preview."I wasn't thinking about taking the game over," Hawkins said. "They (the Rockets) gave me some breathing room and I got into a nice shooting rhythm."
Hawkins, averaging a career-low 10.5 points per game and shooting a career-low 44 percent from the field, shot 4-of-5 on 3-pointers.
"People forget Hawk is a potent scorer who knows how to pick his spots," Vin Baker said.
"We ran some plays for him, got him some extra shots and he bailed us out," Sonics coach George Karl said.
Houston led 53-52 before Hawkins scored 10 straight points, including a pair of 3-point shots for a 62-53 Seattle lead with 8:38 left in the third quarter. The Rockets came no closer than four points the rest of the way.
The Sonics and Rockets have met six times in postseason play, with the Sonics winning five of those matchups. The Rockets beat Seattle 4-3 last season in the Western Conference semfinals.
Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said it's a good possibility the Sonics and Rockets will meet once again in the postseason.
"Their additions have helped them," Tomjanovich said. "They'll be a challenge for anyone."
Seattle trails Utah (59-19) by one game in the loss column in the battle for best record in the West, with the winner likely to meet the Rockets in the first round. Utah has four games remaining and Seattle has three.
Kevin Willis led Houston with 28 points and Clyde Drexler added 25.
Willis' two free throws made it 91-84 with 5:30 left before Sam Perkins' 3-point shot and a pair of baskets by Baker ignited a 9-2 run that gave Sonics a 100-86 lead.
Drexler said losing the season series to Seattle has no impact on a possible playoff matchup.
"Playoff basketball is a whole new season," Drexler said. "Our focus is getting healthy. If we can do that, we're a dangerous team coming out of the number eight seed."
Payton had 19 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds for the Sonics, who won the season series 3-1.
Seattle's bench outscored Rockets reserves 30-10 as Perkins had 10 points and six rebounds and Jerome Kersey added 10 points.
After Baker went to the bench with his fourth with 10:28 left in the third, the Hawkins took over. He scored 13 of the Sonics next 15 points as Seattle led 67-58 with 7:12 left in the third period. His final points of the game a 3-pointer gave the Sonics their biggest lead of 74-60.
Willis had 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting and hit an 18-foot jump shot just before the halftime buzzer to give the Rockets a 52-49 halftime lead.
The Rockets shot 8-of-14 from 3-point range in the first half. Drexler was 3-for-4 and Brent Price was 2-for-3.
HAWKS 91, WIZARDS 81: At Washington, Atlanta waited until the fourth quarter to play well, which was enough to beat the troubled Washington Wizards.
Eldridge Recasner came off the bench to score 10 of his 17 points in the final period, and Steve Smith had 18 as the Hawks rallied from a 14-point deficit.
The Hawks, who have won five of seven and moved a half-game behind fourth-place Charlotte in the Eastern Conference, held the Wizards to two points over the final 6:33.
HEAT 82, KNICKS 81: At Miami, another Knicks-Heat game, another controversy.
Allan Houston's last-second tip-in was disallowed when the officials ruled it occurred after the buzzer, and Miami defeated New York in a disputed finish Sunday.
The Knicks stormed toward referee Bob Delaney when he indicated the basket didn't count, and coach Jeff Van Gundy ripped off his coat in anger. Television replays indicated Houston released the shot with one-tenth of a second left.
But the Heat won, thanks to three baskets by Tim Hardaway in the final two minutes, and reduced the chances that the two rivals will meet in the first round of the playoffs.
HORNETS 88, PISTONS 86: At Charlotte, N.C., Charlotte kept alive its fading hopes for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs as Anthony Mason powered the Hornets.
Mason matched his season high with 29 points and added 14 rebounds and four assists, helping Charlotte snap a four-game losing streak.
NETS 116, RAPTORS 109: At Toronto, Keith Van Horn scored 33 points, Kerry Kittles added 31 and the New Jersey Nets played a perfect final three minutes Sunday night to move into seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
The Nets (42-36), winners of five straight and seven of their last nine, moved one-half game ahead of the New York Knicks, who lost a controversial 82-81 decision to the Miami Heat earlier in the day.
The Nets went 5-for-5 from the field and 8-for-8 from the line over the final three minutes.