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Even after the Los Angeles Lakers had ended the Houston Rockets' season-opening win streak, Charles Barkley wasn't impresseed.

"They're not going to come together," Barkley said of L.A. "They've got a bad mix of players. They're going to win a lot of games because they've got a lot of talent, but it takes more than talent."Asked what it would take for the Lakers to mesh, Barkley said: "A miracle."

In an interview before that game, Barkley said the Lakers are "overrated."

"They're going to have problems," he said. "I don't see them dominating at any position. As physical as Shaq is, he can't make free throws. So he can keep you in games, but he can't win games. If your top player can't make free throws, it's going to put a strain on your team. All you have to do is foul him."

Laker coach Del Harris didn't take Barkley's comments too seriously.

"Charles is Charles," Harris said. "Everyone gets a kick out of him. He has a tendency to be off-color - and maybe he went totally off the coloring book a time or two."

KNIGHT MOVES: One thing interesting about that Rockets-Lakers game was that L.A. won despite having to play untested rookie Travis Knight (ex-Alta High star) for the final three minutes of the second overtime after both Shaquille O'Neal and Sean Rooks fouled out.

"It was the only option I had," Harris explained. "I needed someone tall. That left Kurt (assistant coach Kurt Rambis) and Travis."

Knight looked terrified when he got the call, and he proceeded to airball a free throw, but he made the second foul shot and later tipped in a missed shot.

"My mind was going a million miles an hour," Knight said. "Sometimes it's kind of hard to play when it's going that fast."

Knight said he refused to check his answering-machine messages that night, knowing he'd take some heat over that airball.

"I'll leave it for when I get back," he said. "I get enough grief from my teammates."

SHOTS AT SHAWN: And speaking of centers with local ties, it seems Shawn Bradley needed another booster shot in New Jersey.

Apparently, several Nets asked Bradley to get it in gear after he was dunked on repeatedly by the Magic in that first game in Tokyo. Seems Orlando scored 54 points in the paint and Bradley tallied not a single blocked shot.

"A lot of guys got on him," Nets forward Jayson Williams said. "He thought he had a good game, but stats don't always tell you the truth. A lot of guys wanted him to be more aggressive. We told him we weren't going to tolerate him not getting after it. There were too many people dunking on Shawn."

The next game, Bradley blocked 10 shots.

Bradley said he was never aware he'd been criticized, anyway.

"You know, that just didn't happen," he said.

MORE ON BRADLEY: This, Saturday from Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News:

Meanwhile, Shawn Bradley has entered John Calipari's doghouse, which is why the Nets are actively shopping their big man. "John is disappointed in him, so they're looking to make a blockbuster deal," said one league exec who has talked to Jersey. "Let's see 'em try and get one."

SHORT STUFF: Ex-Timberwolf J.R. Rider was booed every time he touched the ball when he returned to Minnesota recently. "I think the fans felt cheated when he was here," said T-Wolf coach Flip Saunders. (Sort of the way Blazers fans will feel by midseason.)

Orlando broadcaster Jeff Turner was approached by a Japanese fan in Tokyo who shouted, "Shawn Bradley! Shawn Bradley! Please, may I have your autograph?"

"I'm not Shawn Bradley," the 6-foot-9 Turner protested.

"Yes, you are," the fan asserted. "I will see you tomorrow at the game."

Turner signed Bradley's name.

Knicks guard Allan Houston had a creative explanation for his poor shooting on a Western road swing: The climate.

"I need to get back in nasty weather," he said. "I'm used to Detroit, New York, cold and gray. It's too pretty out here. It's throwing me off."

Boston coach M.L. Carr envisions his forward tandem of Eric Williams and Antoine Walker becoming "connected at the hip."

"You have to have that 1-2 punch on your team," Carr said. "The good teams have them. Bird and Parish. Magic and Kareem. David and Goliath. Jane and Tarzan."

Punch and Judy.