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1999 NBA Playoffs

Mirror images

Rockets, Lakers have a bunch of similarities

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Posted: Saturday May 08, 1999 10:52 PM

  The Houston Rocket's "Dream" may be a reality check for Kobe Bryant (right) and the Lakers in the first round. AP

INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) -- Mirror, anyone?

As the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers enter their first-round playoff series, the teams have so many similarities that it's scary.

  • Both had records of 31-19 during the abbreviated regular season.

    The Lakers are seeded fourth in the Western Conference and have homecourt advantage in the best-of-5 series by virtue of a 2-1 record against fifth-seeded Houston, but the Rockets don't seem worried.

    "The pressure's on them, the pressure's always on the home team," Charles Barkley said.

    "We should be able to come away with at least a split in their building," Scottie Pippen said, referring to Game 1 on Sunday afternoon and Game 2 on Tuesday night.

  • Neither team lived up to high preseason expectations, and each played very poorly near the end of the season, losing six of eight games.

    "I think we removed all the hype the way we played early on," Lakers forward Rick Fox said.

  • Both snapped out of slumps by putting together brief winning streaks to end the season -- three for the Rockets, four for the Lakers -- to gain a little momentum entering the playoffs.

    "We've definitely turned some things around, our attitude is very positive," Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "I'm sure LA feels the same way."

    Said Fox: "I expect if we continue to play the way we've been playing, the bandwagon will get heavy again."

  • Both struggled defensively most of the season before showing significant improvement in the late going.

  • Each has one of the best centers in the game -- Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon and Los Angeles' Shaquille O'Neal.

  • Each has two other high-profile players -- Barkley and Pippen for the Rockets, and Kobe Bryant and Glen Rice for the Lakers.

  • Both acquired one high-profile player -- Pippen and Rice -- to hopefully put them over the top.

  • Both have young players in the backcourt -- Houston starts rookies Michael Dickerson and Cuttino Mobley, and the Lakers go with the 20-year-old Bryant and 24-year-old Derek Fisher.

  • Finally, each has an elder statesmen hoping to win a championship ring before retirement -- Houston's Barkley and Los Angeles' Derek Harper.

    "It's going to be a very tough first round," Olajuwon said. "If we can beat them, it will boost our confidence for the rest of the playoffs."

    Pippen and Rice might be the keys.

    Both expressed frustration with the way they've been used at the offensive end, and understandably so.

    Pippen has had to adjust to usually being the third option after being No. 2 behind Michael Jordan with the Chicago Bulls, and Rice had to make the same adjustment after almost always being the top option with the Charlotte Hornets.

    Pippen played one of his best games as a Rocket on April 26 in a 102-80 victory over the Lakers, scoring 26 points and sparkling on defense with six steals.

    After scoring a total of 14 points in two games, Rice scored 62 in the next two capped by a 40-point explosion in Wednesday night's 119-91 victory over Portland in the regular-season finale.

    Should Rice continue what he started against Portland, he and O'Neal would provide the Lakers a deadly inside-outside game.

    "It's important not to let [Rice] get the hot hand going like [against Portland]," Pippen said. "You have to deny him the ball and make him catch the ball in uncomfortable spots. He's a pure shooter."

     
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    English Lesson: First-round picks
    Marty Burns breaks down the NBA Western Conference playoffs
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