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BEING DOWN 1-0 DOESN'T BOTHER ROCKETS

A year ago, the Rockets were down 0-2 to Phoenix and were living proof of Houston's "Choke City" nickname. They won the next three and four of the last five in that semifinal series and carried a new banner, "Clutch City," now trademarked, to the world title.

Are they going to let a little ol' 0-1 debt to the Jazz bother them now?"I'm very encouraged," said Rocket coach Rudy Tomjanovich after Friday's Delta Center practice. He noted that the Jazz got rebounds that glanced off Houston hands when the Rockets had position, and the Jazz got some loose balls. Other games, those might be Houston possessions.

"You've just got to hope things bounce your way. Some games, the ball - it's like you've got a magnet on your chest that's going to attract it," said forward Robert Horry.

"We're not going to be ignored," said guard Kenny Smith. "We came to play. We came to defend the crown."

Tomjanovich remembered going to the NBA finals as a player on a team that barely qualified for the playoffs.

"Believing," he said. "It made it happen."

He remembered Phoenix. "They're labeling us `chokers.' " The Rockets were gagging through the first half of Game Three "and could have pulled in the tents," Tomjanovich said. They didn't. "I'm always going to believe," he said.

"Together, we seem to know what we've got inside, what kind of heart we've got," says Horry. "We've just got to take it on the court and apply it, and everything else will be all right."

Smith said that, while the Rockets must improve their rebounding, loose-ball play and free-throwing, the Jazz must make adjustments, too, like defending Hakeem Olajuwon (45 points on 20-for-30 shooting), so both teams are in similar stages.

The Rockets will be ready tonight, Smith said, for the new John Stockton (28 points including Thursday's game-winner). Smith said defenders were used to Stockton's tendency to penetrate and dish. Thursday, he shot first.

Agreed Horry, "Now we know he has two types of games, where he can shoot, and pass, and we're going to be on the lookout for both."