Yao's monster game can't derail Mavs

DALLAS (AP) -- For two quarters, Yao Ming was nearly unstoppable. Then the Dallas Mavericks showed why they've been unbeatable.

The Mavericks made a halftime adjustment to collapse their zone defense around Yao, then saw Michael Finley and Dirk Nowitzki lead them to a 103-90 victory over the Houston Rockets on Thursday night, improving Dallas to 12-0.

Finley had a season-high 28 points, including six 3-pointers, and Nowitzki had 24 points and nine rebounds as the Mavs set a franchise record for consecutive wins at any point in a season, and tied for the fourth-best start in league history.

Their next goal is matching Boston's 14-0 start in 1957-58, then
the record of 15-0 set by Washington in 1948-49 and matched by
Houston in 1993-94. Dallas next plays Saturday night at home against Seattle.

"We feel confident, but it's going to end sooner or later,'' said Steve Nash, who had 15 points and eight assists. "We're really not concerned about the streak. We just want to get better.''

Yao certainly showed a spurt in his development.

The 7-foot-6 center from China who was the first pick in the NBA draft had his best night as a pro, logging highs with 30 points, 16 rebounds and 33 minutes. His previous bests were 20 points, seven rebounds and 24 minutes.

"I definitely had more confidence tonight,'' said Yao, who was
10-of-12 from the field, making him 31 of his last 35, and 10-of-12
on free throws. "From a technical standpoint, I felt very good.''

Yao entered late in the first quarter with Houston trailing by 10 and scored the game's next seven points. He had 13 points in his first seven minutes, then made consecutive baskets late in the second quarter to put Houston ahead 44-42.

He had 21 points and seven rebounds in 15 first-half minutes.
Then Dallas mixed things up, fatigue set in and Yao wore out. He
had only one point in nine fourth-quarter minutes and didn't take a
shot in the period.

"I played a lot of minutes today. Of course, I want to play more. But I have to build up my endurance,'' Yao said. "Their defense was very tight on me and I did not have very many opportunities.''

Shawn Bradley, the only player in the NBA who can see Yao eye-to-eye, played only 20 minutes because of foul trouble. So Dallas threw a variety of players, some a foot shorter than Yao, into the middle and caused enough to confusion to make things difficult on him.

"We wanted to get him out of his comfort zone and make him work for his shots,'' Finley said.

Mavericks coach Don Nelson enjoyed a personal milestone with the victory as the dozen straight matched the longest winning streak in 25-year career. Nelson, the third-winningest coach in NBA history, had a similar stretch with the 1981-82 Milwaukee Bucks.

"How many perfect people do you know? Well, here is one, baby,'' Nelson said, then punching the air for emphasis.

The game should have been tied at halftime, but a silly foul by
Moochie Norris gave Eduardo Najera three free throws with 0.4
seconds left. He hit them all, and the Mavericks never trailed thereafter.

Houston tied it at 62 on a fine give-and-go that Steve Francis
finished with a high-flying dunk. But Dallas responded with an 11-0
run capped by a Nowitzki 3-pointer.

Houston seemed to catch a break when Bradley got his fifth foul
with 2:53 left in the third. But Yao went to the bench, too, and
when he returned with 8:53 left in the game, Dallas was ahead
87-77. The Rockets never got closer than eight points again, and
the Mavs led by as many as 17.

"My coaches were telling me he was a little tired,'' Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich said Yao. "We thought it was a good time to rest him.''

Francis had 22 points and Glen Rice 16, going 5-of-10 -- all on

Finley was 9-of-19, including 6-of-8 on 3-pointers. Eduardo Najera had 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Avery Johnson had 10 points.

Bradley had zero points and only two rebounds, but he blocked
the first shot Yao tried on him and provided some entertaining
moments when the 7-6 centers were matched up.

"I don't get many chances to play against a player as tall as
me, so I was very excited,'' Yao said. "I know I'm not the
skinniest player in the NBA.''

Game notes
Chicago in 1996-97 and Seattle in '82-83 were the only other teams to start 12-0. ... One game after ending a 182-game streak with a 3-pointer, Houston was 8-of-23. ... Nelson has had four 10-game streaks and one of 11 in his 25-year coaching career. ... This was Houston's fourth game in a stretch where it plays eight of 10 on the road.