Rockets Are Quiet . . . Too Quiet

The scary thing about the Houston Rockets is not what they're saying now that they have a 2-1 lead over the Lakers.

It's what they're not saying.

Their locker room after Friday night's 117-109 win over Los Angeles was like the stock scene from the old war and jungle movies. The scene where one guy whispers to his pal about how quiet it is, and the other guy says, "Yeah. Too quiet."

The Rockets were not whooping and strutting and pounding each others' palms into hamburger with high fives.

They weren't popping off. No talk about how the Lakers got to respect them now, man, how the world's got to respect them, how they're for real.

In other words, they weren't acting like it was a big surprise that they have the mighty Lakers halfway pinned to the mat.

They were cool. Happy, certainly--pleased with their performance. But cool. Dignified, almost. Like they belong here sitting on top of the world and the Lakers.

Like maybe the Houston Rockets' dynasty has quietly arrived, and thank you very much for noticing. A dynasty is what the world has been expecting ever since Ralph Sampson came to town, and especially since the big Rocket in the sky added Akeem Olajuwon to the roster. And now that monster team is sneaking up on everybody but the Houston Rockets themselves.

"This is what we've been waiting for," said Robert Reid, the Rockets' veteran forward who was moved to point guard when John Lucas disappeared into drugland late in the season.

"We thought it would happen the first year (last season, when Akeem was a rookie). It was almost like everyone thought we would be like a yo-yo; we could do what we wanted to do. Make it walk a little, bring it back. But we had to pay our dues, learn to work together.

"That's why teams like the Lakers and Celtics are so great; they play together for two to four years. This feeling came to us at the beginning of the season. We knew what we could do."

In other words, the Rockets quietly believe they belong where they are. There's no use in the Lakers waiting for the Rockets to return to earth, come back to reality. These Rockets believe they're up in the air to stay.

They believe it quietly, which is bad for the Lakers, who feed on the bombast and rhetoric coming out of the opponents' locker room. They need for the Rockets to get puffed up cocky and start talking down at the Lakers, inflaming the Lakers' tender sensibilities. The Lakers turn that kind of stuff into motivational fuel.

But the Rockets are too smart to play that game.

Even the Rocket fans were careful not to incite the visitors. The Summit crowd was loud and happy but never abusive. They politely cheered when James Worthy got up off the floor after an injury. They were even nice to Jack Nicholson.

If the Lakers are looking for motivation, they're going to have to look inside.

They're going to have to decide to rebound, for one thing. When the Rockets play the Lakers, the ghost of Moses Malone lingers.

Malone was the main man in 1981 when the Rockets knocked the Lakers out of the playoffs in a mini-series. Malone's famous credo was, "Mostly I goes to the rack (backboard."

Here's a sobering statistic for the Lakers:

In the three games of this series, the Rockets' three starting frontcourt players have outrebounded their Laker counterparts, 91-38.

This is a serious muscle gap. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, it would seem, is too old to be expected to score 30 points a game, play defense on Ralph Sampson and rebound, too. So, Kareem has 14 rebounds in the three-game series.

James Worthy also has 14 rebounds in the series.

Meanwhile, Akeem and Ralph pound the backboards steadily, kicking off fast breaks and picking up easy baskets. Lewis Lloyd, the Houston guard , had seven offensive rebounds Friday and is looking like the NBA's most dynamic Lewis since Alcindor.

Best of all for the Rockets, worst of all for the Lakers, the Rockets are exhibiting something the Lakers aren't used to seeing in a Houston team at the end of a close game. Poise.

These are the new Rockets.

"This is really a great feeling," Reid said. "I'm playing with a bunch of young kids who give you a college-type atmosphere. On other (Rocket) teams, we had old pros; we couldn't always communicate with each other.

"Now, we've got 12 guys who look out for each other, spend time together, share their problems. We go out of town, there might be nine of us go to dinner together, then go to a movie and argue about who's going to pay for the popcorn. We laugh and joke a lot.

"There's a genuine love and concern for each other. It's a new feeling."

Still, Reid was one of 12 Rockets very eager to give the Lakers the proper respect Friday night. In the locker room, anyway.

"The pressure's still on us," Reid said, humbly, quietly. "They have too many championship rings for us to get overconfident."

Man, the Lakers hate to hear that kind of talk.

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