By Luis Cabrera
SEATTLE – Desmond Mason was held out of the starting lineup, and the Seattle SuperSonics missed his energy in the early going against the Houston Rockets.
Reserve forward Art Long got the start in place of Mason on Friday night after Mason showed up late to morning practice. But Mason, who finished with 21 points in 28 minutes, sparked crucial Seattle runs in the second half as the Sonics defeated the Houston Rockets 99-81.
“We wanted some intensity, so we put Mason in the lineup in the second half to match up with their small lineup and just let some intensity into the building,” Sonics coach Nate McMillan said.
The second-year swingman scored six points in the final three minutes as Seattle closed the game on an 14-2 run after Houston had pulled within six at 85-79. He also scored eight points during a 12-1 third-quarter run that put Seattle up by 13 after a close first half in which neither team lead by more than five points.
Mason was Seattle’s go-to guy in the fourth quarter, a role ordinarily filled by Gary Payton.
“He attacked the rim and got high percentage shots for us and was able to give Gary a break,” McMillan said.
“When you see Gary out there pressing like that, you have no choice but to get up,” Mason said.
Payton led Seattle with 24 points, while Rashard Lewis added 15 and Barry had 15 points and 10 rebounds. Barry hit two 3-pointers and a long jumper in the final three minutes.
Cuttino Mobley led the Rockets with 21, while Norris had a season-high 19 and rookie Eddie Griffin added 16, also a season high. Houston was playing without starters Steve Francis and Kenny Thomas.
Norris got the start at point guard for Francis, who is listed as day-to-day with an injury to his left foot.
Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich was ejected with just under five minutes left in the third quarter after he charged out on to the floor to protest a no-call. Rockets rookie Oscar Torres had stolen the ball from Payton, only to be stripped on the fast break by Barry, who passed to Mason for an open jumper and a 13-point Seattle lead.
Tomjanovich was restrained by three assistants as he shouted at the referees.
“I made my commentary, but I don’t think I got my money’s worth, because they didn’t hear me and I didn’t use a lot of bad language,” he said.
Walt Williams, who scored 31 points off the bench in the Rockets’ 94-87 victory over Portland on Tuesday night, got the start in place of Thomas, who has an injured right Achilles’ tendon. Williams shot 0-for-4 in the second half and finished with just eight points.
Thomas also was listed day-to-day.
Seattle, which has won 15 of its last 18 home games against Houston, was without starting power forward Vin Baker, who was averaging 18 points per game before missing the past six games with a swollen left knee.
Houston used an 8-1 run midway through the second quarter to pull even with Seattle, and the Sonics had a 47-45 lead at the half. Griffin had 10 of his team-high 13 first-half points in the second quarter for Houston. The total was two more than his previous game high of 11.
Payton led Seattle with 16 in the half, including 11 in the second quarter.
McMillan said Baker’s left knee was drained of fluid early Friday, and he’ll be back in the lineup if he appears healthy during Saturday’s practice.
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