HOUSTON, TX -- Lately, the Dallas Mavericks have had a lot of fun at the Houston Rockets' expense.
Josh Howard scored 23 points and Dirk Nowitzki added 20 as the Mavericks beat the Rockets 96-83 on Saturday night, continuing to dominate their in-state division rival.
Jerry Stackhouse had 17 points for the Mavs, who've won six straight meetings with the Rockets and 10 of the last 11. That includes a 100-94 victory on Nov. 21, a game the Rockets led by 17 in the third quarter before the Mavs rallied.
"It's a good team and a good team always brings out the best in us," Nowitzki said. "It's a fun matchup. It's fun to play them."
Dallas won the conventional way this time, blowing open a close game with a 26-9 run bridging the third and fourth quarters.
Houston outrebounded Dallas 40-29, but the Mavericks seemed to score on every possession in the final 15 minutes, while the Rockets' offense floundered with turnovers and bad shots.
"They're a tough team," said Devin Harris, who had 14 points, seven assists and five steals. "The formula we have for them is just working."
The Mavs shot 51 percent (36-for-71) against Houston's defense, fourth-best in the NBA coming into the game.
Yao Ming had 28 points and 14 rebounds for the Rockets, who've lost five of their last eight.
Tracy McGrady bruised his left knee on a drive in the first quarter and was affected the rest of the game. He scored 12 points on 5-for-18 shooting. McGrady said he's had soreness in the knee for two weeks.
"It has something to do with my kneecap being out of line," he said. "I banged it and it's just one of those things."
The Rockets were averaging only 94 points coming into the game. They've failed to score 90 in their last four games and lost three of them.
Houston coach Rick Adelman vowed to take scoring pressure of Yao and McGrady when he took the job in May. So far, he hasn't figured out how to do that.
"We just have to find a way to get more people involved," he said. "I don't know how we're going to be successful if we can't do that."
The Mavs' have held their last four opponents to an average of 86 points, an encouraging sign to coach Avery Johnson.
"We've been pretty soft during the first 10-15 games," he said. "We haven't been as tough as we've normally been and that's just not me saying that. Our players feel that way. They want to be a little bit more physical."
That showed in the first quarter, when Nowitzki elbowed Shane Battier in the head as the two went for a rebound. The blow opened a gash and Battier went straight to the bench and grabbed a towel as blood spilled on the floor. Trainer Keith Jones walked Battier to the locker room, where he got four stitches.
Battier returned with a bandage on his forehead and helped the Rockets take a 41-38 lead at halftime.
McGrady came out for the second half with a black wrap around his left knee. McGrady chatted with the team's physical therapist, Russ Paine, on the bench before the second half started.
McGrady made his first shot of the third quarter, a mid-range jumper from the wing, to put Houston up 53-51. Devin Harris answered with a 3 and Howard drove for a dunk as Dallas began the decisive spurt.
Stackhouse sank a 3 and dunked after a Houston turnover late in the third quarter. Brandon Bass threw in a hook shot over Yao and Nowitzki sank two free throws early in the fourth quarter to put Dallas up 72-61.
"We got aggressive, we started putting pressure on them," Stackhouse said. "Dirk got aggressive, we made some baskets and got some separation. From there, it was just a matter of closing out the game."
Yao hit a free throw, but Nowitzki scored again as the Mavericks continued to pull away. They hit their first eight shots of the final quarter, while the Rockets mustered only one field goal in the first 6 minutes.
Steve Francis started at point guard for Houston for the third time this season. Usual starter Rafer Alston sat out with a strained groin.
Francis went 1-for-8 from the field and scored three points with five turnovers.