This season has been far from easy for Sam Cassell. But as the games get more important, he seems to get better.

Houston's reserve guard had a career-high 16 assists Saturday night as the Rockets beat Golden State 112-105. Hakeem Olajuwon had 38 points and 15 rebounds."I just want to get on the court," said Cassell, a second-year pro. "Of course, eventually, I'd be lying if I said I don't want to start. But that's (coach) Rudy's (Tomjanovich) decision. He wants me to be the spark. I like being the spark."

Houston's Robert Horry also had a career-high 10 assists as the Rockets totaled 44 assists, tops for the team this season and the third-highest in club history.

Cassell, who finished with 13 points, also keyed Houston's fourth quarter, collecting 10 points - including three 3-pointers - as the Rockets held off the Warriors.

"He was passing the ball around and distributing the wealth," Tomjanovich said. "Then the shots started coming his way. Those threes were big down the stretch."

The victory pulled Houston within 31/2 games of Midwest Division-leading Utah.

Latrell Sprewell had 30 points and Tim Hardaway 24 for Golden State. Ricky Pierce came off the bench to add 18.

The Warriors trailed by 106-103 with 2:40 left as Sprewell hit a 3-pointer, but Houston's defense took charge, forcing a 24-second violation and a turnover on Golden State's next two possessions.

Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, playing with five fouls, then hit back-to-back baskets to put the game out of reach. Drexler finished with 22 points.

"We're just a couple of mistakes from winning the game," said center Victor Alexander, who added 14 for Golden State.

The Rockets trailed for most of the first half by as many as eight points before a 14-2 run to close out the second quarter, including seven points from Olajuwon, gave them a 58-50 halftime lead. Olajuwon started out 1-for-7 in the game before finishing the first half with 21 points.

For the game, he hit 11 of his last 12 shots.

"He just started off slow," said Alexander, who drew the defensive assignment against Olajuwon. "I knew it couldn't last. It wasn't anything I was doing to affect him."

"I wasn't really frustrated early but I realized my concentration level was not really there," Olajuwon said. "After my first basket it got me going."

The Warriors used an 11-3 spurt in the first three minutes of the second half to pull even at 61-61 before a basket by Olajuwon and a pair of free throws gave the Rockets a 65-61 edge. Golden State tied it again with 3:50 left in the third period but never led again.

Golden State, losing for the ninth straight time to Houston, fell to 2-5 under new coach Lanier.

Bullets 102, Kings 98

At Landover, Md., Chris Webber's alley-oop with 9.6 seconds left broke a 98-98 tie and helped the Washington Bullets snap a six-game losing streak with a triumph over the Sacramento Kings.

Webber, who led Washington with 25 points, took a lob pass from Juwan Howard, who was double-teamed in the left corner. Howard finished with 18 points.

Sacramento, which has lost a season-high four straight games, tied the game at 98 with 27.3 seconds left on a 3-pointer by Mitch Richmond, who had 32 points.

But after Webber's dunk, Richmond fouled Scott Skiles as the Kings moved upcourt, and Skiles hit a pair of free throws with 3.8 seconds remaining for the Bullets' final points.

Cavaliers 105, Nets 102

At Cleveland, Danny Ferry sank the go-ahead 3-pointer with 13 seconds left and scored a career-high 24 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers rallied to beat the New Jersey Nets.

The Cavs won for the fifth time in six games overall and completed a four-game season sweep of the Nets.

Chris Morris scored a season-high 31, including 23 in the first half, to lead New Jersey. Jayson Williams had a career-high 20 points.

Clippers 83, Lakers 81

At Los Angeles, Loy Vaught scored 27 points and the Los Angeles Clippers snuffed out a late rally by the Lakers to beat their crosstown rivals and end a four-game losing streak.

The Clippers have beaten the Lakers in four of their last seven meetings, but are 19-70 against the rest of the NBA during that span. The victory was their 10th of the season, preventing them from tying Philadelphia's record-low nine wins in 1972-73.