Miami Heat

Miami Heat falls to Rockets as Wade has off night

It was a matchup problem he figured would give him fits the entire night.

The disadvantage simply made him uncomfortable entering Monday's game, which pitted Yao Ming, the league's tallest center at 7-6, against the shortest in 6-8 Udonis Haslem.

Surprisingly, it wasn't Haslem, the Heat's undersized starting center, who felt worried before the game.

"I just don't have speed to match up with him,'' Yao said. "It's a huge advantage. He's really going to try to run me, and just put a body on me.''

Yao had little about which to worry - literally. On a night when size surpassed speed and girth beat out grit, the Rockets defeated the Heat 107-98 at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Yao finished two points off his season high, with 28 points and 12 rebounds, as the Rockets (10-5) swept a three-game East trip. Houston has won four of its past five games even as it continues to get little production from Tracy McGrady, who is nursing a sore knee and finished with only six points.

It also was a tough night offensively for Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who began the game by missing a dunk in transition and ended it by clanking a jumper off the side of the backboard.

On the day he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Wade scored 23 points but was only 7 of 23 from the field. The Rockets held the Heat to two field goals in the game's final four minutes.

Mario Chalmers had a season-high 23 points, Shawn Marion scored 17 and Michael Beasley added 14 for the Heat (7-7), which has alternate wins and losses in its past 10 games.

Ron Artest finished with 20 points for the Rockets, who got 14 points from former Heat point guard Rafer Alston and 11 points apiece from Luis Scola, Carl Landry and Aaron Brooks.

It was another typical slow start for the Heat, which continued the disturbing trend against the Rockets.

For the second consecutive game - and for the third time in five games - the Heat got off to a slow start against an opponent that had its way early. The Rockets led 30-21 after they established an inside-outside game that left the Heat scrambling.

The Rockets shot 71.4 percent from three-point range, with Artest, McGrady and Brent Barry each connecting from beyond the arc. The Heat missed 12 of its first 20 field goal attempts and was outrebounded 16-9 in the first quarter. And that was before Yao really got going.

Then came the third quarter, when the Rockets pounded the ball inside to Yao on nearly every possession. It resulted in a 13-point quarter for Yao and a frustrating period for the Heat.

Haslem was assessed a technical foul with 5:49 left in the third. He argued a foul called against him as he defended Yao, who converted the layup and free throw. Yao made the ensuing free throw on the technical to make it a four-point possession, one that put Houston ahead 69-56.

Spoelstra was assessed his first technical foul later in the quarter when he disputed an offensive foul called against Wade. But Miami regained its composure, increased its defensive pressure and closed to within 80-75 after three quarters.

The Heat climbed out of a similar hole to beat Indiana on Saturday. Miami trailed by 17 points in Wednesday's loss to Toronto before it rallied to make it close at the end.

Slow starts have become a poor habit Wade said the team must break.

"That comes with the team growing, understanding we're making it hard on ourselves by having to do that push so often early in the season,'' Wade said. "As guys understand each other more, understand what it takes to win, we'll take the next step and that will change.''

Yao represented the first in what will be a week of tall challenges for the Heat, which leaves Tuesday for a five-game Western Conference trip.

The Heat will face Greg Oden in Portland on Wednesday, Shaquille O'Neal in Phoenix on Friday and Los Angeles Clippers big men Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman Saturday.