Nowitzki had 10 points in a 14-0 run as Dallas rallied for a 49-45 halftime lead, then capped a decisive 14-5 third-quarter burst with a 3-pointer that gave the Mavericks a 64-55 advantage.
Dallas also continued to distance itself from the rest of the Midwest Division, bumping its lead to 5 1/2 games over second-place San Antonio.
Yao’s efforts were somewhat nullifed by Dallas’ Shawn Bradley, who is the same height as the 7-6 rookie.
Bradley scored 12 points, grabbed seven boards and blocked six shots.
“This is something for me to learn from. I don’t get many opportunities to play against someone as tall as me,” said Yao through an interpreter. “In the second half, I did OK, but in the first half, I played pretty poorly.”
Yao scored 15 in the second half.
“When Shawn Bradley plays like he did, we are a pretty good team,” Dallas coach Don Nelson said.
Bradley’s offense got the Mavericks rolling in the second half. With the score tied at 50-50, Bradley hit consecutive shots to ignite a 14-5 burst.
“I understand that I have to do things the team needs me to do,” Bradley said. “Everyone on this team knows his role.”
With the Mavericks coming off Thursday’s emotional 95-87 victory over the Spurs, Nelson was afraid his team was poised for a letdown. In the early going, it appeared his fears were justified.
Houston got off to a quick start, shooting 60 percent (12-of-20) from the field en route to a 30-23 lead after 12 minutes.
“I was really worried about how we would play all day long,” Nelson admitted.
Things turned in the second quarter, as the Rockets went cold and Nowitzki heated up, shooting 5-of-7 from the field in the period.
“It’s a good shooting building. I’ve always liked to come here and play,” said Nowitzki, who also had 34 in a 104-81 victory in the Compaq Center on January 29. “There are always a lot of fans. It was a lot of fun tonight.”
Dallas trailed, 43-35, when Nowitzki’s jumper with 4:10 left ignited a late spurt. He added a layup, jumper and a transition lay-in to tie it with 2:18 left in the half.
The Mavericks kept the pressure on in the third period. After Francis’ 16-footer at the 9:21 mark evened the score at 50-50, Bradley sank a turnaround jumpr to give Dallas the lead for good.
“I liked a lot of the shots we had in the first quarter, we were running and got some easy buckets,” Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. “But in the second half, we didn’t get the percentage inside like we normally do. Bradley had something to do with that.”
Dallas shot 49 percent (38-of-77), including 6-of-17 from 3-point range.