NBA PLAYOFFS / UPDATE : CLIPPERS : Cheers Lifted Norman's Spirits

A day after he had a stretch of four missed free throws in five tries, including an air ball, Ken Norman was remembering the good feeling.

That was thanks to the fans at the Sports Arena, who rose to his defense, literally. It came as Norman went to the line for the third time in a row, with the Clippers down by a point with 5:42 left in Game 4 against the Houston Rockets, and the possession after his air ball.

Norman barely hit the front of the rim with the first try. Then, suddenly, the crowd rallied behind him with a standing ovation. The Rockets called timeout to ice him. Norman came out of the Clipper huddle to another loud dose of support--then made the shot.

"It's no secret that I'm not a very good foul shooter," said Norman, 59.5% during the regular season and 50% the first four games of the playoffs. "I can't describe in words what it meant to me.

"It almost brought water to my eyes. That's what championships are made of. In the past, I would have gotten booed. Even today (Thursday), I'm down a little bit, but to think back to what that crowd did, it means a lot to me. More than words can explain."

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Loy Vaught, sidelined Wednesday because of a strained lower back, will play Saturday in Game 5, trainer Keith Jones said.

The Clippers' leading rebounder three of the final five games of the regular season, Vaught has been bothered by back problems for most of his career, though never to this extreme. He underwent traction treatments Thursday that includedbeing stretched by a machine to relieve pressure on the back.

"Maybe we'll make him 6-11," Jones said of the 6-10 Vaught. "That'll make things tougher for Hakeem (Olajuwon)."

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The Rockets are trying to make it out of the first round for the first time since 1987, when they beat Portland and then lost to Seattle.

This is the first time Houston has had home-court advantage since beating the Trail Blazers, even in the 52-win season of 1990-91. That team lost to the Lakers.

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