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This time around, Yao, Rockets plow through Mavs

HOUSTON (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."

Most of Alston's assists were feeds to Yao, who used quick,
strong post moves to dominate DeSagana Diop and Erick Dampier as
they tried to guard him.

"When I give him a target, he always passes the ball right on
target," Yao said of Alston. "There is good chemistry there."

Dirk Nowitzki scored 24 and Josh Howard added 16 for the
Mavericks, who shot 41 percent (29 of 70) and committed 22
turnovers. Dallas is 0-2 for the first time since the 1993-94
season.

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 2 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.

Game notes
Dallas owner Mark Cuban watched the game from courtside.
... Yao's point total was five short of his career high. ... The
NBA fined Josh 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.