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All things being equal, the Houston Rockets should win these NBA Finals in five games.

Too much firepower. Too much speed. Too many Nigerians.All things being equal, the Rockets should be able to reprise their regular-season performance against the New York Knicks - two one-sided victories, punctuated by Pat Riley's team laying brick after brick after brick.

Except things aren't equal, are they? The league office is knuts about the Knicks. The Knicks are New York's team. And as commissioner David Stern once sang - or was it Frank Sinatra? - if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. The Knicks, as they say, are good for business.

N-B-A? In the Eastern Conference Finals, it stood for New York Better Advance. What Indiana's Reggie Miller did to John Starks in the dying seconds of Game 7 was nothing more flagrant than what trailing teams do every night in the National Basketball Association.

Cheap call, but Knicks win. And the league's knetwork, KN-B-C, heaves a knormous sigh of relief.

Which is why the Rockets and this season's dominant player, Hakeem Olajuwon, likely have begun the most annoying struggle of their NBA lives, continuing Friday night with Game 2.

"The biggest game of the year," Olajuwon was calling it at The Summit on Thursday afternoon.

"We know that if we win, regardless of what happens in New York, we will keep the home-court advantage, and that is what we want."

Indeed, the last thing the Rockets want to do is let Spike Lee make up the series seating chart.

Spike, homeboy-turned-Hollywood director, likes the Knicks. Woody Allen likes the Knicks. Lots of celebrities like the Knicks.

Celebrities used to go to boxing matches. Now they're Knicks fans. This may or may not be coincidental.

The Rockets? When the NBC camera panned the Houston audience Wednesday night, the only celebrities it seemed to find were . . . well, Knicks fans. Come on, Houston - is there an astronaut in the house?

Thus, the Knicks, with their celebrity adornments and the network's blessing, have the power to skew reality toward their behalf. Hand checks on defense are suddenly in vogue. Hip blocks away from the ball are disregarded. Protected by the Brady Bill, Patrick Ewing may never foul out again.

Here are two stat lines for you. During the regular season, New York players fouled out 23 times, opponents 22. During the playoffs, the Knicks and their opponents are averaging the same number of free-throw attempts per game.

K-no harm, k-no foul.

"I don't think you're going to see either team score 100 points during this series," said Jack Ramsay, the ex-coach who is working the Finals for ESPN.

What Ramsay is telling us is that the tugging, shoving Knicks have the power to weave a spell over this best-of-seven series. Maybe somebody at NBA headquarters is leaving notes in the game officials' lunch boxes.

Olajuwon is no chronic complainer, and so there was sincerity in his remark Thursday that a certain NBA official "must have something personal against me."

Presumably, he was talking about Dick Bavetta, who slapped a Game 1 technical on Hakeem allegedly for mouthing off.

"I am never expecting anyone to give me anything," Olajuwon said. "Just call a fair call.

"I was just asking a question - `Do you have anything personal against me?' Anything I do, he calls a foul.

"I don't want to complain about the referees, though. It might get me in more trouble."

Olajuwon, for sure, is one of the league's treasures. Yet he hardly gets the gray-area rules treatment that officials routinely accord the NBA's Barkleys, Ewings and even its O'Neals.

Psst. Commissioner. Pass it around. The guy is MVP.

The Rockets, nonetheless, are confident. The Rockets promise they won't let the other team do its thing, that "Knicks" thing.

"Put it this way," Houston guard Kenny Smith said. "You can play a 45 record or a 33. We can dance to both. We like the 45, but if they put a slow record on, we can handle it."

All things being equal, Smith and the Rockets are right.

But, say, commissioner. Isn't that Madonna sitting behind the Knicks' bench?