HOUSTON -- Al Harrington missed the last seven games of the preseason with a left foot injury, and thinks he's still a few weeks away from feeling like himself again.
Harrington hit 10 of 24 shots, including 5 for 8 from 3-point range, and grabbed 10 rebounds.
"Obviously, missing all of training camp, that cost me a little bit of time," said Harrington, who signed with Denver as a free agent over the summer. "I'm this close, I'm feeling good. I just want to keep playing and just get into a good rhythm. It's just going to take some time."
Yao Ming scored 14 points, pulled down six rebounds and blocked two shots in 23 minutes. Houston continues to limit his playing time as he comes back from foot surgery that sidelined him all last season.
"I'm surprised at how well my teammates have adjusted to me being on the court after having me out for a year," Yao said. "We just need to continue to work on things."
With Yao on the bench, Scola scored Houston's first eight points of the second half. Yao returned with 7:33 left in the third quarter, but Denver finished the period on a 16-6 spurt to take a 72-69 lead.
J.R. Smith hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the third quarter, then converted a three-point play early in the fourth. Harrington hit two free throws and a 3-pointer on consecutive possessions to stretch Denver's lead to 85-76.
The 6-foot-9 Harrington played 30 minutes off the bench. Denver coach George Karl says he's still figuring out how to use Harrington most effectively.
"We're trying to learn about Al a little bit," Karl said. "He knows how to get open, he knows how to find the 3. He plays hard and rebounds the ball well."
Harrington was self-critical for the 14 missed shots. He was also surprised after the game when he realized he had taken 24 attempts.
"I don't need to be that aggressive every night," he said. "But once I get into rhythm, I think that will really help us a lot, keeping floor space and giving 'Melo and Nene and Chauncey more room to work."
Denver led 90-89 when Yao returned with 4:30 left, and Billups promptly hit a 3-pointer. Anthony stripped the ball from Yao and found Arron Afflalo for a fast-break layup and a 97-89 lead with 3:36 remaining. Harrington beat Yao on an offensive putback on Denver's next trip, and fans started heading for the exits.
"We did a pretty good job until the last part of the third quarter," Houston coach Rick Adelman said. "In the fourth quarter, we just kind of gave in to the situation. It's disappointing, but we just have to keep working at it."
The Rockets pulled within six, but Harrington put it away with a 3-pointer with 1:05 left.
Denver went 10 for 27 from 3-point range and shot 38 percent (34 of 90) overall.
"We started executing on the offensive end, we got some rebounds and we did what we wanted down the stretch," Billups said.
Yao started and hit three of his first four shots, but Nene sneaked by him for an easy layup in the opening minutes. Anthony hit a pull-up 3-pointer on his first shot to give Denver its first lead.
Brad Miller replaced Yao with 5:51 left in the first quarter. The Rockets played at a faster pace with Yao on the bench, and built a 25-18 lead. Houston was up 33-27 when Yao returned with 9:13 left in the first half.
Nene just beat the halftime buzzer with his second career 3-pointer to cut Houston's lead to 51-48. Anthony scored 15 points in the opening half.
Denver went 29 for 33 from the free-throw line. Billups made 10 of 11 and has 4,002 made free throws in his career. ... Martin is 30 for 30 from the free-throw line this season. ... Lowry was hit above the right eye in the first quarter and got four stitches at halftime. ... The Rockets lost their home opener for the first time since the 2000-01 season.