Houston's Yao Ming won a showdown of top-flight centers with Orlando's Dwight Howard on Tuesday to guide the Rockets to a 93-83 home victory.
Yao schooled his younger rival with 20 points and 16 rebounds as Houston stopped Orlando (57-20) from overtaking second-placed Boston (58-19) in the Eastern Conference.
"Each year I feel it's harder and harder to guard him (Howard)," Yao told reporters. "He keeps getting stronger and he has quickness. He has learned a lot of offensive skills."
Howard, who wound up with 13 points and 10 rebounds, returned the compliment.
"He shot the ball well," Howard said. "I got really frustrated with my game."
The 7ft, 6ins (2.29m) Yao also is very hard to defend because of his height, said Howard, who stands 6ft 11ins (2.11m)
The loss left the Magic a full game behind Boston.
Houston (50-28), the No. 4 team in the Western Conference, took the lead against the Magic midway the first quarter and enjoyed a 47-38 halftime advantage.
Orlando pulled within a point in the third quarter at 55-54 on Rafer Alston's three-pointer, but two consecutive field goals by Yao and a three-pointer by Shane Battier put Houston back in control.
"I'm really pleased with the win," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "I think our guys really played hard, defended them well."
Ron Artest finished with 16 points, Von Wafer had 14 and Luis Scola scored 12 for Houston while Rashard Lewis led the Magic with 22 points and 12 rebounds, Alston adding 15 points.
(Reuters via China Daily April 9, 2009)