The Rockets had not beaten the Magic in Orlando in the regular season since 1991.
That changed in a hurry Wednesday night.
Yao Ming scored 17 of his 23 points in the first half and coupled that with 11 rebounds and a pair of blocks to lead the Rockets past the Magic 91-81 in the O-Rena.
The Rockets improved their mark to 19-14, drawing closer to the Suns, Spurs and Blazers.
Yao was impressive, drawing raves from Orlando personnel in attendance and the Magic announcers. They threw Shawn Kemp, Andrew DeClerq and Pat Burke on him and none could do much of anything. Yao hit 8-14 from the floor and nailed all 8 freebies.
Houston held Tracy McGrady and Mike Miller completely in check on this night. Both Cuttino Mobley and James Posey played very well on T-Mac, who missed 16 of his first 23 shots. He got some help with his numbers by making a few in garbage time, but he was completely shut down.
Miller even worse. He shot a Jon Starks-esque 3-17 from the field, finishing with just 8 points in 41 minutes.
Simply put, Houston controlled this one. They held Orlando to 35% shooting. They had a very balanced offense, with all 5 starters taking about an equal number of shots: Yao (14 attempts), Mobley (13), Eddie Griffin (13), Steve Francis (12) and Glen Rice (10).
Griffin was the one who got them going right from the outset. His energy was huge in the first quarter as he put up 8 points, 7 boards and 3 blocks in the first frame alone. He was posting up, getting the ball and hitting the turnarounds over his defenders. I really liked how Eddie crashed the glass tonight ... the Rockets really need to see him displaying this kind of energy night in and night out.
Yao's impact on this game was very evident. Orlando shyed away from attacking the paint because Yao, and Eddie, controlled it early on. The Rockets enjoyed a 9-2 edge in blocked shots in this one.
The Rockets' only real weakness on the night was turnovers. They finished with 21 cough-ups, but had 19 through three.
The first quarter was one serious dose of Eddie Griffin (and long overdue).
The Rockets went to Eddie consistently, who took advantage of Pat Garrity in the post. Eddie hit a couple of turnarounds and helped the Rockets go on an 8-0 run and take a 24-17 edge after one.
What was real impressive was Eddie's straight up rejection of Tracy McGrady on a dunk attempt. Tracy went up hard with both hands and Eddie split the seams to reject it soundly. He and Yao Ming (who had a great quarter in his own right with 7 points) rejected the follow-up of Shawn Kemp as well.
Eddie had 8 points, 7 boards and 3 blocks after the first quarter alone.
The second quarter started out as a different story. Yao Ming, as usual, was pulled, and Kelvin Cato came in. Houston's offense fell flat and Orlando came alive, taking a 37-34 edge.
But Cato got in foul trouble, picking up 3 quick fouls, and it was the single best thing that could happen to the Rockets at the moment because Yao Ming came back in.
Yao entered with 6:28 left in the quarter and proceeded to score 10 quick points. He made a 14-foot jumper, a baby hook in the post, had a shot goaltended, knocked down 2 freebies then was cornered behind the three-point line just off baseline, and then he blew by Pat Burke all the way to the goal for a layin in traffic.
So it was no surprise that when Moochie Norris closed the scoring at the half with a long bomb, the Rockets were up 10 at half, 49-39.
Yao was 6-7 from the floor for 17 points, 5 boards and a pair of blocks. Eddie Griffin, who really only played the beginning of the second quarter, finished with 10 points, 8 boards and 4 rejections.
Two important things to note at half: Houston held Tracy McGrady to 4-15 shooting in the first half, and he was clearly flustered. Possibly even more important was that Steve Francis had taken just 3 shots -- but had no assists.
The third quarter is where Francis and Cuttino Mobley stepped up. Francis had stepped up his offensive game, getting to the line a lot, and Houston had built their lead up to 13 through three at 71-58.
The fourth -- it just became a rout. Orlando just could not shoot the rock and even when they had gimmes they seemed to find a way to blow them.