Tuesday November 9, 2010 11:15 p.m.
By Frank Hanrahan
Wizards forward Yi Jianlian says facing Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets Wednesday night at Verizon Center is just another game. "Nothing special, for me. Maybe a lot of people watch in China. Won't be like the NBA Finals, but people will still watch it," Yi said.
Yes Yi, they will tune in. An estimated 400 million people will watch the two most famous Chinese basketball players play each other on Chinese television at 8 a.m. Shanghai time. Now, how much they will be on the court together remains to be seen.
After the 7'5 Yao suffered a broken foot last year, his minutes were set in stone by Rockets management at 24 minutes a game and he's averaging a career low 12.8 points and 6.5 rebounds so far at the center position this season. Yi has also struggled out of the gate averaging just 7.1 points a game in 20 minutes off the bench for the Wizards. So what does the 7'0 Yi need to do to get more playing time? "I still have a lot to improve. Defense, offense, rebounding. Everything," Yi said.
Physically Yi has a good court presence but Wizards coach Flip Saunders wants him to work on his mental game. "I think sometimes he gets frustrated. I think sometimes he doesn't make his first couple of shots, he might doubt himself. He just has to know we have confidence in him," Saunders said.
The coach also associated Yi's success or lack of it to the play of rookie point guard John Wall. "When John is playing well he finds Yi and gets him a lot of shots. The last couple of games John has struggled and so it has affected Yi," Saunders said.
Yi is looking for his first win over Yao having lost all four previous meetings. "Hopefully he doesn't get caught up too much", Saunders said. "The biggest thing is it's the Wizards versus the Rockets and I hope that overrides any thing individually. I think they both have a lot of respect for each other," Saunders said.
Notes: It will be Asian Heritage Night at Verizon Center on Wednesday. Festivities include a halftime Lion Dance performance by Wong Chinese Dragon Lion dancers and a post-game meet & greet with the Wizards Yi Jianlian.