ORLANDO, Fla. -- Yao Ming turned and emphatically slapped his arm. He had just drawn Dwight Howard's sixth foul, seemingly sinking the Orlando Magic and winning the battle between probable NBA All-Star starting centers Friday night.
That play didn't beat the Magic, but a last-second call might have.
Adonal Foyle appeared to tip in Rashard Lewis' driving layup miss with a fraction of a second left to tie it and force overtime. But officials shocked the crowd, which had watched the replay several times, by returning to wave off the bucket to give the Houston Rockets a 96-94 victory. No record of an official call was made, and the officiating crew declined comment.
"Exciting finish," Yao said, in terrific understatement.
"When they said it was no good, we were just trying to hurry up and take a shower, put our clothes on before they would tell us to come back onto the court," said Rockets guard Rafer Alston, who scored the winning layup.
Within 15 minutes of the finish, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy had already put in calls to league officials.
"I'm not going to summon a lot of anger," Van Gundy said. "This is a tough night in the NBA. It's the way it goes sometimes."
Alston had 20 points and eight assists, and Bonzi Wells added 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Rockets.
Dwight Howard had 16 points and eight rebounds before Yao knocked him out of the game with 51 seconds left. It was just the third time all season Howard, the NBA's leading rebounder with 15 a game, failed to get double-digit boards.
He also was the third center in two days who fouled out trying to defend Yao. The Boston Celtics lost two in a 97-93 win Wednesday.
"Howard has become a real force when you put up the numbers he's put up this year," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "Unfortunately, they both got in foul trouble tonight, but Yao's just a great player. Night in and night out he does it for us."
Yao and Howard both made spectacular plays.
Nelson found Howard over Yao for an alley-oop in the second quarter, Howard's dunk less than a minute later helped energize the crowd. The Magic looked lifeless early and have struggled at home, dropping to 7-8 at Amway Arena with the loss.
"The thing is that it's frustrating that we're giving teams an opportunity to have calls being decided in the last minute," Foyle said. "I didn't see the replay, but I thought it was good because as I tapped it and I was coming down, I saw the light through the basket and I thought I had a good chance of getting it in."
Though Yao easily won the head-to-head matchup, he admired Howard's game.
"I have to say, he works really, really hard," Yao said. "I didn't see his workouts, but I can feel it. He improved so much from last year, from my standpoint. I need to catch up, you know?"
The Magic hung around until the end and managed to tie it on Lewis' 3-pointer with 19 seconds left.
After Alston's bucket, Orlando had fout seconds to inbound the ball to win or tie. Lewis threw up a floater that bounced off the backboard and rim, then Foyle rose up to tap it in.
Tracy McGrady watched in a suit from the bench, out his fifth straight game with left knee problems. The Rockets expect him to miss up to another 1½ weeks and hadn't done well without him, but didn't need him Friday.
Orlando was outrebounded 44-36, helping account for 16 Houston second-chance points to the Magic's five. Orlando has beat only one team over .500 at home this season, though it was the powerhouse Celtics.
- Tiger Woods, who has a home in the area, made his second straight appearance at a Magic game, a rarity. Woods is sitting out the PGA Tour opener this weekend in Hawaii.
- Magic G Keith Bogans left in the fourth quarter with an apparent ankle injury. Friday was the first game all season he hadn't started, but it was a coach's decision, not because of an injury.
- The Rockets had lost two in a row.