The Utah Jazz took Thursday off.
The Houston Rockets could have done that, too, and nobody would have said a word: Travel day, up 2-0 in the series after winning a playoff classic against the Jazz Wednesday night - a day of rest would have been quite acceptable.To a man, said coach Rudy Tomjanovich, the Rockets chose to practice after he gave them the option of taking it easy.
"That was great," said Tomjanovich prior to the Rockets' Thursday afternoon workout at the Delta Center. "Coaches always want to practice, but we've been logging a lot of minutes, especially Hakeem (NBA MVP Olajuwon), all the wear and tear - just give them that option.
"All year long, we've been a work-ethic team, and it's a big part of our success," said Tomjanovich. "I just got a great feeling when they said, `No, we want to keep it like we always do.' "
"It's like lifting weights," said Olajuwon. "When you first start, the first few days you're sore. At the beginning, you feel so tired. But once you get there, shoot around, you feel loose and happy that you got this practice."
"We wanted to just come out to the gym," said guard Vernon Maxwell. "All us, we like playing one-on-one shooting games," he said, looking forward to doing just that in Thursday's practice.
Olajuwon did admit to feeling tired after his colossal performance Wednesday (41 points, 13 rebounds, six assists) when he dueled Utah's Karl Malone down the stretch and came out the winner. "The key is to get rest, eat a proper diet," he said, noting the Utah altitude will play a part in these next two games in the Delta Center tonight and Sunday afternoon. "But we've won here before. I'm sure we can do it again," Olajuwon said.
Maxwell said the altitude will not affect him. "I don't get too tired," he said, but he added, "We're in a tough place to win, so we feel like we've got to come out and match their intensity."
The Rockets, of course, know what it's like to be down 0-2 in a series, like the Jazz are now, since they did that in their second-round series before dispatching the Phoenix Suns to move to the conference-championship round.
"They know they've got to work hard. There's more pressure on them," said Maxwell, "but they're home now."
"It's the first time," said Olajuwon, "they get a chance to play in front of their home crowd and have confidence at home.
"What we have done so far," said Olajuwon, "is protect our home court. I don't think we've gained any advantage. This is the first time they have the opportunity to play here, and we have to put that pressure on them to see how they respond."
Tomjanovich's personal analysis of the Rockets' great success this season is that Olajuwon is surrounded with better players. "I think he really has confidence in his teammates," Tomjanovich said. That and a rotation system that gives Olajuwon an easier look at his options leads to Houston's best-in-the-league inside-outside game. Tomjanovich said the Rockets' offense puts teammates more in front of Olajuwon. "All he has to do is turn his head," Tomjanovich said. "It's an easier-to-read system."
Olajuwon, however, takes some offense that some people think he doesn't shoot as often over the double- and triple-team defenses that he draws. "That's a concept they want me to buy into," e said, "but I disagree with that. What happened (Wednesday), I was shooting some shots over two or three guys. Some tough shots. When you make it, you're a hero. When you miss it, then they say, `Well, you should be passing the ball.' They say, `Oh, you're selfish.' "People don't understand the nature of the game. I cannot win, so I'm not going to try," Olajuwon, breaking out into a laugh at his presumed predicament.
He admits his teammates are more helpful. "That relieves all the pressure. The teammates I have now can finish better than before, but I shoot over the double team now like I did," he said.
The Rockets are a help-out team in rebounding, too, said guard Kenny Smith. The Rockets outrebounded Utah 42-23 Wednesday. Olajuwon said he wasn't aware of that. But Smith was. "The guards are rebounding a lot more now," he said. "We take it personally - not only box out your man, but box out the other guy's man," he said, describing a rotating system of box-out assignments that keeps opponents guessing. Smith said he might be assigned to block out Malone one play, John Stockton the next.