MIAMI -- Ron Artest is difficult to please.
After seeing Yao Ming shake off waves of defenders in a 28-point, 12-rebound effort that helped the Houston Rockets beat the Miami Heat 107-98 on Monday night, someone asked Artest to assess his center's performance.
"I thought he could have played better," Artest said.
The Heat surely wouldn't have wanted to see that.
Yao shot 9-for-15 from the floor and scored 19 points in 19 second-half minutes, more than doing his part in keeping the undersized Heat at bay. Miami primarily used 6-foot-8 Udonis Haslem -- by far, the smallest starting center in the NBA -- against the 7-foot-6 Yao, along with a steady stream of help from the weak side to get in the Chinese star's way.
"We did all right, but Yao's Yao," Heat forward Michael Beasley said. "He's 8 feet tall. Ain't much we can do."
Artest scored 20 and Rafer Alston added 14 points for Houston, which finished with six players in double figures and outrebounded Miami 51-35. Luis Scola had 11 points and 13 rebounds, while Carl Landry and Aaron Brooks each scored 11 for the Rockets, who finished off a 3-0 road trip against East teams.
Dwyane Wade scored 23 points for Miami, doing so on 7-for-23 shooting, which prompted another quick line from Artest.
"He played really bad tonight," Artest said. "He didn't play like I'm used to seeing him play."
By now, the Heat are used to dealing with some major lack-of-size disadvantages.
But facing Yao clearly exacerbated the issue, something the Rockets happily exploited. Miami would always have someone helping Haslem against Yao, even two people dropping into the lane at times, so the Rockets' center often took what the Heat defense gave and found someone who was open.
It wasn't coincidence: With Yao on the floor in the first half, the Rockets were 5-for-7 on 3-point tries, 2-for-4 with him on the bench.
"He really does create a matchup problem down there," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He's so efficient. You can't foul him, it's tough to play in front of him, it's tough to play in front of him. But in the first half, we kind of opened up the door for the 3-point shooting. We didn't close out quite as hard as we have in other instances and they got it going."
Miami had its moments, though, against Yao. After he grabbed a rebound in the opening minutes, Chalmers -- who is 17 inches shorter than Yao -- ran from behind, stripped the ball away, then stepped out and hit a 3-pointer.
Yao got revenge on the next trip, rolling to the basket after setting a pick and dunking over Chalmers, who could only shake his head.
"On this trip, we're finding a way we're going to play basketball, [take] advantage of what we have as a team and create open shots," Yao said.
Miami faced a sizable early deficit for the second straight game, this time an 11-point hole in the opening quarter. But things never got truly out of hand, and when Wade hit the first two baskets after intermission, the Heat found themselves only down 56-52.
The margin was trimmed to two after a layup by Beasley moments later, but Miami -- which has alternated wins and losses in its last 10 games -- never got closer.
After Beasley's score, the Rockets went on an 11-0 run, with Yao getting nine of those points.
He had three-point plays on consecutive possessions, the second of which actually became a four-pointer when Haslem was called for a technical for arguing that Yao was in the paint far longer than the allowed three seconds.
"Felt like 10 seconds in the paint to me," Haslem said. "I was guarding the guy all night. I'm conscious of three seconds."
In the fourth, whenever Miami got close, Houston had an answer, never letting its lead fall below four. And when Alston hit a 3-pointer with 1:47 left to make it 103-93, the outcome was sealed.
"Another solid win for us," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "For the most part, we followed the game plan on Wade. Ron did a great job just making him work."
Marion will attend a family funeral in Arkansas on Wednesday afternoon, and said even a private flight wouldn't get him to Portland in time for Miami's game there that night. He'll make his return to Phoenix on Friday, when the Heat will be reunited with Shaquille O'Neal, who hasn't played against Miami since Feb. 10, 2004. ... Yao had his second-highest scoring game in 11 all-time appearances against the Heat, topped by only his 34-point effort at Miami on Nov. 12, 2006.