Yi Jianlian scored 13 points as the Wizards beat Yao Ming and the Rockets 98-91 Wednesday. Photo by Mike Frandsen.

Who is better, Yao Ming or Yi Jianlian?

If you need a player just for the next year or two, you’d pick Yao, assuming he’s healthy.  But Yi is catching up, and if you’re looking toward the future, you’d select Yi.  Yao is a more traditional center, while Yi has more athleticism. One thing is certain – the Wizards should give plenty of playing time to Yi, who plays like a small forward – which is both good and bad, but mostly good because of the way he runs the floor.

Chinese basketball stars Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian faced off Wednesday night in Washington, D.C., but it was rookie John Wall who stole the show with a triple-double as the Wizards (2-4) defeated the Houston Rockets 98-91.

The 7-6 Yao, who helped make basketball the most popular sport in China, had to leave the game after six minutes because of a strained

Yi pulls down a rebound against the Rockets. Photo by Mike Frandsen.

tendon in his left foot.  Meanwhile, his protégé, the 7-foot Yi, had his best game in a Wizards uniform, scoring 13 points, grabbing seven rebounds, and blocking four shots in front of 16,665 on Asian American night at Verizon Center in a game that more than 400,000 people in China were expected to watch early in the morning.

Wall and Yi hooked up for one of the plays of the game in the third quarter, when Wall passed to Yi for one of his 13 assists. Yi drove past Luis Scola of the Rockets (1-6) on the baseline and threw down a dunk to give Washington a 68-63 lead late in the third quarter.

Wall, the number one pick in the 2010 NBA draft, also had 19 points, 10 rebounds, six steals and only one turnover.

Yi answers questions after the Wizards-Rockets game. Photo by Mike Frandsen.

Wall became the sixth player in the history of the NBA to have a triple-double in the first six games of his career. One of those players was Magic Johnson, who was in attendance, sitting to the left of the Wizards’ bench next to owner Ted Leonsis.

Al Thornton and Andray Blatche each added 20 for the Wizards.  Kevin Martin scored 31 for the Rockets.

The 30-year old Yao, when healthy, is still one of the top three centers in the NBA, along with Pau Gasol of the L.A. Lakers and Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic.  However, Yao, a seven-time all-star, has suffered several injuries in recent years including a broken foot that sidelined him all of last season, and the Rockets’ coaching staff has limited him to 24 minutes per game.

Yi is an athletically gifted 7-footer who plays more like a small forward, creating matchup problems for the opposition.  Yi, who was traded from the cellar-dwelling New Jersey Nets in the offseason, has adapted well to his new surroundings.  Yi says he likes the plethora of Chinese restaurants in the Chinatown area of Washington near the Verizon Center, as well as the international diversity of the population.

Washington Bullets retro uniforms.

More than three decades ago, chants of “EEEEE” rang out from the Capital Centre as the greatest player in Washington franchise history, Elvin Hayes, led the Bullets to the NBA championship.  Wednesday night, fans made the same chant for the 23-year old Yi, from Heshan, Guangdong, China, who played a season high 29 minutes.

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