Houston Rockets center Yao Ming was rewarded with his first NBA start tonight following his 30-point, 16-rebound effort in a 13-point loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night.

"I kind of feel like it's my first game all over again," said Yao, the 7-foot-5 center from China and the first overall draft pick, before tonight's game against the Washington Wizards.

"I'm mainly concerned with helping my team," he said through an interpreter.

Yao added that he had to temper his admiration for Washington guard Michael Jordan, the one NBA player he and million of others in China recognized for years.

"The first time I saw Michael Jordan in person shoot it left a very deep impression on me," Yao recalled about the 1998 experience. "It's a great pleasure to watch him play. I have to be careful not to just be a bystander."

Wizards forward Kwame Brown, last season's overall top pick in the draft, said he understands the pressure Yao is going through -- the media scrutiny, the shock of adjusting to the NBA -- and said he's glad to see how well Yao seems to be fitting in.

"He's starting to get comfortable," Brown said. "I knew he was going to be good. He missed training camp and that was kind of tough when people got on him so early. You can see he's a big-time player. I'm happy for him that he's doing well."

Wizards Coach Doug Collins said Yao, though saddled with having to overcome a language barrier and cultural differences, entered the NBA more prepared than Brown, who came straight from high school.

"This guy is light years ahead, experience-wise," Collins said. "This guy's played in the Olympics, he's traveled, he's played against the American team, played against the best competition. He's ahead of Kwame because of his experience. Kwame never played at this level of basketball before he got here."

Barkley's Bet

Jordan watched his good friend and TNT analyst Charles Barkley make good on a bet with co-host Kenny Smith -- Barkley said he would kiss Smith's [behind] if Yao scored 20 points -- when Barkley kissed the tail of a donkey.

"I wasn't sure which one was the ass," Jordan said. "Was it the four-legged or the two-legged kind?" . . . Houston guard Cuttino Mobley (sprained left ankle) and center Jason Collier (leg injury) were placed on the injured list. Former Maryland forward Terence Morris and guard Tito Maddox were activated.