11/04/2006 Mavericks @ Houston
By CHRIS DUNCAN
HOUSTON, Nov. 4 (AP) -- The Houston Rockets made a flurry of offseason moves to try to close the gap with the Dallas Mavericks. They routed the defending Western Conference champs on Saturday night with two guys who were already with the team.
Yao Ming scored 36 points and Rafer Alston had 14 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds, leading Houston to a 107-76 victory over the Mavericks in the Rockets' home opener.
Luther Head had 17 points and Kirk Snyder added 12 for the Rockets, who shrugged off a bad night by Tracy McGrady to beat the Mavs for the first time since March 6, 2005.
"To have a chance in this league, you need to have energy and execution, both of them consistently, and you need great players playing great, Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "And Yao obviously played great.
The Mavericks swept four games with Houston last season, but shot poorly this time and never found a way to shut down Yao, who sank 12-of-16 shots and went 12-for-12 from the free-throw line.
Alston, meanwhile, had one of the best overall games of his career, adding four steals and four 3-pointers without a turnover. He also played smothering defense on Mavs guard Jason Terry, who missed all five of his shots and scored one point.
"This ranks up there with my better ones, Alston said. "Sometimes, your best games are not in the statistics. They're what you do when you don't have the ball.
"When I give him a target, he always passes the ball right on target, Yao said of Alston. "There is good chemistry there.
Yao capped his night with an alley-oop dunk from Snyder that put the Rockets up 100-70 with 4:59 left.
He had 24 points at the break and his last basket of the half was a fadeaway jumper from the baseline with 0.1 seconds left that put the Rockets up 52-38.
"When we double-teamed him, triple-teamed him or single-covered him, he would still score, Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. "He was playing like we were not out there on the floor.
McGrady missed all four games with Dallas last season with back problems. He had only two points at halftime on Saturday, then hit his first two shots in the third quarter. But the six-time All-Star picked up his fourth foul with 5:13 left in the quarter and went to the bench.
That just gave Yao more opportunities to dominate.
In one sequence, he blocked a shot by Nowitzki, then had a layup and a dunk after passes from Alston.
McGrady is ready to designate Yao the league's top center.
"At this point, I'd say he's the best, McGrady said. "Now, he's coming into his own.
Head sank a 3-pointer two minutes into the fourth quarter to push the lead to 81-61. With 6:56 left, Yao got his first assist when he found Alston for a 3-pointer.
The Mavs never recovered from the Rockets' opening 12-0 run. Alston got it started with two 3-pointers and Yao followed with two close-range baskets, foreshadowing his night to come.
"It seemed like they took it to us from the beginning, Johnson said. "They came out with a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm.
"We were just unable to throw a punch tonight. We just didn't have it.
Neither did McGrady, though the Rockets didn't miss him at all with the way Yao and Alston played.
McGrady missed four of his first five shots, then left with a cut tongue late in the first quarter. Bonzi Wells replaced him and made his Houston debut.
The Mavs missed 11 of their first 17 shots and trailed 28-16 after Steve Novak's 3-pointer early in the second quarter.
McGrady returned with 4:45 left in the half and Houston up 41-29. He finished with eight points and four assists.
Notes: Dallas owner Mark Cuban watched the game from courtside. ... Yao's point total was five short of his career high. ... The NBA fined Howard $5,000 on Saturday for his flagrant foul on San Antonio's Bruce Bowen in Thursday's opener. ... The victory margin matched the Rockets' biggest from last season.