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Houston Is Refusing to Eliminate Chances

Pro basketball: Rockets may be trailing in series, 2-0, but they have been in this position before.

May 13, 1999|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Houston Rockets hung around in Westwood showing zero signs of fear or desperation Wednesday, looking and sounding as if they had faced playoff elimination too many times to get the pulse racing all over again.

After Tuesday's 110-98 drilling by the Lakers, which pushed Houston to a 2-0 deficit in this best-of-five first-round series, the Rockets practiced at UCLA and sounded no alarms--and eagerly awaited a trip to Houston for tonight's Game 3.

"The only thing I know you can't do, is you can't panic," said Rocket Coach Rudy Tomjanovich, who has guided Houston teams to an 11-4 record in 15 previous elimination-situation games.

"Yeah, we've got to come out with a sense of urgency. But it can't be desperation and it can't be panic. That's the No. 1 thing."

During the Rockets' two NBA championship runs in 1994 and 1995, Houston won eight consecutive games when facing playoff termination.

"Now we're playing just to stay alive," said Hakeem Olajuwon, the only player remaining from those teams. "And it gets bigger.

"If we win tomorrow . . . the pressure shifts on both teams. Right now, all the pressure is on us. If we win the game tomorrow, then the pressure is on both teams [in Game 4 at Houston], because they don't want to come back here for Game 5. . . .

"That is the experience of a team that knows what it's like to be in the playoffs. If you're down, 2-0, it doesn't mean it's over, because we haven't even gotten a chance to play at home."

Tomjanovich stressed that he didn't think his team quit in the Game 2 thumping, it was a matter of the Lakers playing at the highest level, making every open shot and denying every Houston offensive parry.

"We've got to get our confidence back," Tomjanovich said. "We can't get into a depression. They played very well. . . . We looked at the tape, our effort was there . . .

"They had a couple guys in a zone."

First and foremost, Tomjanovich pointed out Laker point guard Derek Fisher, who averaged 5.9 points during the regular season (and made 38 three-point baskets) but has averaged 18 points and made eight of his 12 three-point attempts (67%).

"The guy's playing with great confidence," said Tomjanovich, whose original defensive game plan included doubling Shaquille O'Neal with his point guards and leaving Fisher alone on the perimeter.

"You know, those plays were the percentage play, the way that everybody else has played them this year. We changed it after he hit. But you don't know he's going to hit those shots. I've got to give the kid a lot of credit."

Charles Barkley, meanwhile, said that his relatively quiet 19-point effort (which followed a much more dominant 25-point performance in Game 1) was a result of the Lakers' quick start and not any major Laker defensive changes.

The Lakers mostly played Barkley one-on-one, with Robert Horry providing most of the bumping Tuesday.

"The game just kind of got out of hand last night," Barkley said. "We didn't have any chance to get the ball to me. . . . But it doesn't matter how many points I score when we're down 20."

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