But in Round 1 on Friday night, McGee was a rookie making his second NBA start. He didn't back down -- he even won the opening tip and scored the game's first basket with a layup over Yao -- but the six-time All-Star from China and teammate Tracy McGrady dominated in the fourth quarter as the Houston Rockets added to the Washington Wizards' misery with a 103-91 victory.
"That makes me remember my first year against Shaq," said Yao, who first faced Shaquille O'Neal as a rookie during the 2002-03 season. "I was thinking I could block shots and let him catch it in the paint, and the same thing happened to me."
Back in the lineup after missing one game with a sore left foot, Yao finished with 18 points, and his mere presence allowed the Rockets to spread the floor for six 3-pointers in a 27-6 run over the final 8Â½ minutes -- including a game-ending 13-0 onslaught over the last 4:16.
The chief beneficiary was McGrady, who scored 14 of his 20 points in the final period despite being hobbled by a sore left knee.
"They ran everything through Yao the last six minutes of the game," Wizards guard Antonio Daniels said. "He made plays for everybody else. When he had an opportunity to score, he scored. Obviously it's a tough matchup for JaVale, 10 games into his rookie season, but we all go through it. It's part of the growth process."
McGee faded in the second half and finished with eight points, four rebounds, two blocks and five fouls.
"I was trying to play aggressive and keep him away from the rim," said McGee, the No. 18 overall selection in this year's draft. "But it was pretty hard."
Antawn Jamison scored a season-high 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Wizards, whose 1-9 record is the franchise's worst start since the 1966 Baltimore Bullets opened 1-10.
Andray Blatche had a season-high 14 points and Caron Butler added 12 for Washington, which shot just 3-for-15 from 3-point range.
"It is pretty much the same story for us," Washington coach Eddie Jordan said. "We played very hard and played together with a lot of passion. It comes down to the team that makes shots. They made shots and plays, and we didn't."
Carl Landry scored 19 points, and Aaron Brooks had 18 for the Rockets, who opened a three-game East Coast trip with their seventh straight win against Washington.
Quiet for most of the game, McGrady hit a pair of 3-pointers in a 9-0 run that wiped out a nine-point deficit and tied it with 7:11 to play. McGrady then added two more 3s and another long jumper as the Rockets dominated down the stretch.
"I was just cruising for three quarters, just executing and not being so aggressive and just getting my guys the ball," McGrady said. "When it's time to turn it on in the fourth quarter, I hit some big shots. If you're a shooter -- you know I'm a rhythm shooter -- once you hit a couple, you just get that feeling and you want the ball."
Washington was competitive for three quarters with the new starting lineup of Dee Brown at point guard and McGee at center. Brown and McGee made their first NBA starts in Wednesday's loss at Atlanta.
But the Rockets came alive when it mattered.
"Suddenly we started making every shot," coach Rick Adelman said. "Yao got really aggressive. Tracy got the hot hand, and it carried over as he made some shots, which is what he had to do. It was a nice comeback."
Notes: The Wizards' last win in the series came on March 2, 2005. ... Even the Wizards' starting lineup announcer is in a slump. He proclaimed that Jamison was from "North Carolina University," quite a revelation for those who know the school as UNC -- not NCU. ... Washington's Gilbert Arenas, out with a knee injury, finally made it onto the court -- in wax. His Madame Tussauds wax figure was displayed at midcourt during the break between the third and fourth quarters.