LOS ANGELES – Kevin Martin scored 28 points, including four free throws in the final 16 seconds, and the Houston Rockets nearly blew an 18-point lead in the second half to the stubborn Los Angeles Clippers before beating them 97-92 for their fourth straight victory.
Luis Scola added 22 points and Shane Battier had 13 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists for the Rockets, who never trailed and recorded their third wire-to-wire victory — one more than they had all of last season.
Houston has won 14 of 24 games after an 0-5 start and can reach the .500 mark for the first time this season with a victory against Washington when the team resumes play Monday at home.
Blake Griffin, heading full-speed toward his second straight rookie of the month award, led Los Angeles with 24 points and tied a career high with 18 rebounds — his 17th straight double-double and 23rd overall.
Martin's 3-pointer gave the Rockets their biggest lead, 65-47, with 9:22 left in the third. The Clippers sliced it to 77-70 on Eric Bledsoe's 17-footer after an offensive foul at the other end by Brad Miller, who was hit with a technical during the ensuing timeout for continuing to argue the call.
Eric Gordon converted the free throw, then added a layup on the Clippers' next possession and Griffin cut it to 77-76 on a three-point play with 7:05 remaining. But the Rockets came back with an 11-2 run to pull away to an 88-78 lead with 4:18 to play.
Martin capped the run with a 3-pointer, and Scola hit a clutch 17-footer from the top of the key after Los Angeles sliced the margin to 88-84 on four free throws by DeAndre Jordan and a layup by Gordon.
Griffin drained a rare 3-pointer with 58 seconds to go, and fellow rookie Al-Farouq Aminu cut Houston's lead to 93-92 with three free throws after getting fouled by Scola on a jumper behind the 3-point line. But that was as close as they got. Griffin missed on an attempted tying 3-point shot with 4 seconds on the clock.
Gordon, coming off a season-high 36-point effort Monday night in a 113-90 win over Minnesota, picked up two fouls in his first 4½ minutes on the floor and had to watch from the bench the rest of the first half as Bledsoe and Randy Foye tried to bring the Clippers back from a 16-point deficit.
Jordan and Griffin had dunks on alley-oop plays in the final minute of the first quarter, but the Rockets responded with a 13-7 run at the start of the second to restore their double-digit margin to 45-35 and built it to 56-43 by halftime.
Battier, who hadn't scored 20 or more points in 42 consecutive games since last February, had 13 before Gordon reported back in at the start of the second half. Gordon got his first points on a 22-footer that trimmed the margin to 56-45 in the opening minute of the third quarter.
Ike Diogu, who was signed by the Clippers as a free agent on Wednesday because of injuries to Chris Kaman, Craig Smith and Brian Cook, scored eight points in 17 minutes. So it may be a bit premature for Clippers fans to dig out those old "I like Ike" buttons that were handed out at the L.A. Sports Arena at the start of Isaac Austin's overhyped 26-game interlude with team in 1997-98.
Kaman is out for at least another month with an injured left ankle, and the Clippers learned Tuesday that Smith will be out for at least two weeks after getting an epidural for a herniated disk in his lower back. Cook missed his third straight game because of sprained right ankle.
NOTES: Diogu, picked ninth overall in the 2005 draft by Golden State, sat out all of last season because of microfracture surgery on his left knee and played in just three preseason games with Detroit before he was cut. ... The Clippers are 0-17 when trailing after three quarters.