DALLAS (AP)—About the only thing the Houston Rockets have had going for them lately was the strong play of Yao Ming. So the main thing the Dallas Mavericks focused on Tuesday night was making him work for everything he got.
Yao wound up being pestered into his worst game in a month, scoring only four points by halftime then taking only one shot in the third quarter of an 88-72 victory by the Mavericks.
“Every time he tried to get to the post, we fought him,” Dallas center DeSagana Diop said. “We didn’t want to give him anything easy.”
Dirk Nowitzki scored 28 points, including six during a 12-2 spurt that broke the game open in the second quarter. The Mavericks were hardly challenged again, easily capping a season sweep over a team that took them to seven games in the first round of last year’s playoffs.
Dallas won for the fourth time in five games to remain a half-game behind San Antonio for the best record in the Western Conference. Houston lost its sixth straight since a four-game winning streak.
Yao finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds. It was his fewest points since scoring only six in 9 minutes against Phoenix on Feb. 16.
He’d scored at least 20 points in the 14 games in between, averaging 28 over that stretch. That included a 36-point game against Dallas last week.
This time, the Mavs sent two and sometimes three defenders at Yao, practically begging him to pass the ball to an open teammate. He did quite often, they just didn’t hold up their end of the deal.
The Rockets never scored on more than two straight possessions and barely surpassed their season low of 70 points, yet another example of how badly they miss the injured Tracy McGrady.
“We’ve got to make the shots when they double-team Yao,” said forward Keith Bogans, who was one of the prime offenders by making only one of six shots. “That’s what it comes down to.”
Yao scored 27 in the first half of his previous game against the Mavericks. They switched to this same strategy in the second half of that game, then picked up where they left off from the opening tip.
In the first half, Yao made only two of 10 shots and never made it to the foul line. After going 1-for-1 in third quarter, he took the first shot of the fourth quarter and had it blocked by Dallas center Erick Dampier.
“They put a lot of pressure on me,” Yao said.
Nowitzki, who tied his season high with 37 points Sunday, already was leading the Mavs with 16 points through three quarters, then scored their first 12 points of the final period. They didn’t get a point from anyone else until Jerry Stackhouse hit a pair of free throws with 4:04 left.
Stackhouse had 16 points and five assists, and Jason Terry scored 12. Dampier had nine points and nine rebounds.
Dallas followed a season-low 10-point first quarter Sunday in New Jersey with 20 points in the opening period, then grabbed control with a 12-2 run in the second quarter. Stackhouse closed the half with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
The lead hit 20 in the third quarter.
Dallas won the four-game series by a total of 66 points, winning each game by at least nine. … Stackhouse alone outscored Houston’s reserves 16-13. … The Mavericks made as many free throws (24) as the Rockets attempted. … Houston dropped to 2-19 in games without McGrady. … Dallas is without four of its top nine players, including two starters. Coach Avery Johnson said he doesn’t expect anyone back before the weekend and might not have all of them again until the final five games.