HOUSTON — Quiet! You might wake up the Houston Rockets.
This is definitely not the time for them to snap out of it, not with the chance to claim a second consecutive NBA title by beating the Orlando Magic tonight in Game 4 at the Summit. Nighty night. Sweep dreams.
Only against this, ahem, magical backdrop could a championship come close to seeming secondary. The Rockets, in reality, have landed somewhere much greater than the doorstep of a repeat championship, impressive but hardly rare, considering the Lakers, Pistons and Bulls. This is about becoming part of forever.
"I think this is history," said their center for the ages, Hakeem Olajuwon.
It certainly is something big.
The Rockets have beaten No. 1 San Antonio, No. 2 Phoenix and No. 3 Utah in the West in earlier rounds, and now hold a 3-0 lead on No. 1 in the East, Orlando.
They stand to become the first team to defeat four 50-game winners in the playoffs.
They have won seven consecutive postseason road games, already a single-season record.
They have faced elimination five times these last six weeks or so and lived to tell.
And they have done it after going 7-8 and 5-7 the final two months of the regular season, starting the playoffs as the No. 6 team in the Western Conference. They have done it with only one backup who gets any respect, point guard Sam Cassell, with Otis Thorpe having been traded and Pete Chilcutt facing Karl Malone in the first round and Charles Barkley in the second and converted small forward Robert Horry getting Dennis Rodman and Horace Grant the next two.
People talk about shooters getting in a zone. This is an entire team in a zone.
"When you look back, you'll look back and say, boy, this was some accomplishment," said Jack Ramsay, the Hall of Fame coach here as an ESPN analyst. "For this team to come along, get together, flounder in the regular season, in both parts, with Thorpe and without Thorpe. . . . You know, 17-18 after the trade. It's a great story."
Said reserve center Charles Jones, a veteran of 12 seasons: "If the Rockets go on to win this championship, I think this team will be remembered for a long time. It's going to be one that's going to stand out even more than last year because no one expected this team to win. They expected them to get knocked out by Utah in the first round, probably in three straight.
"Then to come and play Phoenix, another powerhouse team, and people thought we had no chance against them and then we go down, 3-1, and then win.
"And, of course, San Antonio, a team that was extremely tough, that was just cruising through the regular season.
"We met up with all those teams. With each game, we raised our level of play a notch."
And then to maybe sweep the Magic?
"I think it would be incredible," Jones said. "It would be unbelievable. The whole world would just be in shock. They would look at our roster and say, 'How could they do that? They have Olajuwon and [Clyde] Drexler, then after that, what else?' But that team had heart."
Around here, they party in the Rockets' name in the streets, causing traffic jams after a preliminary step, the conference finals, by pulling into intersections and then getting out of cars. They record songs, \o7 "In the Summit, the crowded Summit, the Rockets play tonight.\f7 "
Meanwhile, the Magic searches for answers, mostly what to do with Drexler, whose ability to grab a defensive rebound, put his head down and lead the fast break to the other end like a locomotive has caused untold damage. Nick Anderson, already a no-show on offense, is Drexler's responsibility.
Orlando Coach Brian Hill, already unable to counter the Rockets' small lineup that has neutralized Horace Grant's potential impact as a force on the boards, said before practice Tuesday that he will stay with the same starting lineup. That means Anderson and Dennis Scott are either getting one more chance to pull out of the nose-dive, or one more chance to go down in flames.