HIDALGO, Texas -- Orlando's star center was as good as ever.
It's too soon to tell how Houston's will be after an extended absence.
Dwight Howard had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Vince Carter added 14 points and the Orlando Magic beat the Houston Rockets 97-88 in their preseason opener on Tuesday night in a game where Yao Ming played just 12 minutes.
"I'm happy that I can get on the court and I can run," Yao said. "I was running without pain ... and I think that's a good first step."
Yao played eight minutes in the first quarter and four in the second before sitting down for good in his first game since undergoing surgery on his left foot in July 2009. He grabbed three rebounds, had three points on free throws, one assist and attempted just one shot.
"I thought he did OK," Houston coach Rick Adelman said. "It's going to be a process. It's going to be a process for him and it's going to be a process for our team."
Howard, who played 27 minutes, had no problem dealing with the 7-foot-6 Yao in the scant time they faced each other and scored 10 points on him in the first few minutes of the game.
"He's getting back into it," Howard said of Yao. "He's still physical. I think he's just trying to get back right. I'm just happy to see him on the floor and hopefully he continues to play."
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy was impressed with Howard's play.
"I thought he played well," Van Gundy said. "He hit those two face-up bank shots. He put the ball on the floor and I thought he was real good. I thought our post play in general was real good."
Yao played about half of the 24 minutes the Rockets have said they will limit him to this season. They will consult with doctors as the season progresses to see if he might be able to handle more. Houston is eager to have him back in any capacity after going 42-40 and missing the playoffs with 6-6 Chuck Hayes playing center in his absence.
"I'm not really tired but I'm just trying to catch the speed," Yao said. "After 15 months of not playing a game I had to start somewhere."
The 30-year-old seven-time All-Star has averaged more than 19 points and nine rebounds since he was drafted first overall in 2002. He jogged onto the court a couple of minutes after his teammates to some of the loudest applause of the night as fans stood up and snapped pictures while shouting his name.
This was a unique setting for an NBA game in a town of just over 7,400 directly across the Rio Grande from the Mexican city of Reynosa, Tamaulipas. It is part of a metropolitan area made up of several cities, including McAllen and Harlingen, in the southernmost part of the state known as the Rio Grande Valley. Hidalgo is about 350 miles from Houston and 280 miles from San Antonio.
Houston's Argentinian forward Luis Scola delivered a welcome message to the fans in Spanish before mariachis performed the national anthem. The arena, which is home to Houston's developmental league champion team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, holds about 5,500 fans and attendance was announced at just over 4,850.
Though the crowd was mostly pro-Rockets, there were several pockets of fans, some in Howard jerseys, which cheered wildly when he made a play.
Orlando, playing for the first time since losing to Boston in the Eastern Conference finals, had new acquisition Quentin Richardson in the starting lineup. Richardson, who signed a three-year deal in the offseason following a season with the Miami Heat, had four points and seven rebounds. When he wasn't playing, Richardson was the team's biggest cheerleader, shouting, clapping and pumping his fists after good plays.
The Rockets' next game is at San Antonio and they have two at home before traveling to China for two games against New Jersey on Oct. 13 and 16. ... Orlando travels to Indiana next before playing three straight home games.