Jason Terry scored 31 points, and Dirk Nowitzki added 24 points and 12 rebounds in the Mavericks' 96-86 victory over the Rockets.
Howard, the Mavs' second-leading scorer, was inactive because of a left ankle injury, while Yao, Houston's top scorer, missed the game because of a sore left foot.
The Mavericks made the better adjustment to their loss, leading most of the game, outrebounding Houston 46-40 and holding the Rockets to one of their worst shooting performances of the season.
Jason Kidd had eight points, nine rebounds and seven assists for the Mavs, who've won three in a row and 11 of the last 14 meetings with their in-state division rivals.
Tracy McGrady scored 16 points and Ron Artest added 14 for the Rockets, who shot 37 percent (29 of 78) from the field, including 6-for-25 from 3-point range. McGrady and Artest, both nursing injuries, each went 5-for-14 from the field.