WASHINGTON -- Defending Yao Ming is difficult enough withoug having to rely on third- and fourth-string centers against him.
Yao took advantage of Washington's injuries in the middle to score 23 of his season-high 38 points in the fourth quarter and the Houston Rockets ended the Wizards' three-game winning streak with a 114-109 victory Saturday night.
"The sting of injuries many times can't be overcome... You feel for any coach and any team that goes through injuries like that. We've gone through the same thing here," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "You take wins any way you can get them."
Yao was limited to 15 points through three quarters, but the Wizards finished the game without backup center Brendan Haywood, who left in the second quarter with a left thigh bruise, and starter Etan Thomas, who exited early in the fourth with a left ankle sprain. Both are day-to-day.
"(Yao's) got an arsenal that I haven't seen before," Wizards coach Eddie Johnson said. "He is equally dominating on either box."
"Thomas and Haywood, they are great players," Yao said. "They always push me out of my position. They have a lot of defensive experience. They know how to guard a big man, post me up. When they're out, obviously, it's good for us, good for me."
Yao grabbed 11 rebounds and had six of the Rockets' season-high 10 blocks. Houston outscored the Wizards in the paint, 42-22, and Washington's centers scored only seven points.
"That's the worst time you want to lose your centers -- against him," the Wizards' Gilbert Arenas added. "It is hard."
McGrady said he expected to play Tuesday at home against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Arenas shook off a ragged start to finish with 41 points for the Wizards, who were bidding for their first four-game streak since winning five straight from Feb. 4-12, 2006. Antawn Jamison added 27 points and 11 rebounds, and Caron Butler 17 points and 10 rebounds for Washington.
Yao scored Houston's first 12 points of the fourth quarter. His two free throws gave the Rockets a 92-91 lead after three foul shots by Jamison, who was fouled by Juwan Howard on a 3-point attempt. Yao finished 12-for-14 from the foul line.
Booth's 3-pointer with 30.7 seconds left got the Wizards within 110-109, but Yao responded with a fadeaway jumper over Booth for a three-point cushion.
Alston scored eight points in a 10-2 run early in the third period that erased Washington's 57-53 lead. Alston started and ended the burst with 3-pointers; in between Yao hit a short jumper and Alston wasn't challenged on a driving layup from the right side.
McGrady took over from there, scoring 12 points in the final 7:13 of the third. Two free throws by Luther Head, who scored 12 points off the bench, gave the Rockets an 80-74 lead with 1:03 left in the quarter.
Arenas, who scored 98 points during the three-game winning streak, missed his first 10 shots of the game -- six from the floor and four from the free-throw line -- before converting a jumper on his first field-goal attempt of the second quarter for a 25-20 Washington lead.
He then hit six straight field goals, scoring 13 points in a 2:23 span and 15 consecutive points for the Wizards, who led 52-51 at halftime despite 16 points from McGrady. In between his dry spell and his strong streak, Arenas briefly left the court and ditched his white shoes for black sneakers.
- Washington was whistled for three shot-clock violations in the first half.
- Houston F Chuck Hayes fouled out with 4:48 left in the third period after playing 16 minutes.
- The start of the fourth quarter was delayed nine minutes when lights in the Verizon Center rafters dimmmed but did not return to full strength. The game was restarted and the lights reached full power after 3 1/2 minutes.