The Houston Rockets, still in the clouds after whipping the Bullets Tuesday night at Capital Centre, have the home-court advantage and 15.276 friendly backers to cheer them on Friday night as they seek a 3-2 advantage in the best-of-seven NBA Eastern Conference semifinal series.
"The mathematics of these last games is simple," said Houston coach Tom Nissalke. "But the games won't be, home-court advantage or not."
Oddsmakers rate the Rockets 5 1/2-point favorites. But the Bullets were 5-point choices Tuesday night when they lost. Oddsmakers do not shoot free throws, and the Bullets, making only 10 of 32 from the line, helped the rockets prevail, 107-103.
"This has just been one tremendous physical series," Nissalke said. "We're confident. We know we have a good team and we know what we have to do to win, but that doesn't mean we want it any more than they, as some people have suggested. Both teams want it very badly. No one is dogging it.
"When you get down to this level and this late in a series, talk doesn't mean much of anything. The players have to do it out on the floor."
The more businesslike Bullets have come up with ways to contain Moses Malone and John Lucas, but are still looking for a way to harness Mike Newlin.
Two clutch Newlin baskets in the fourth quarter Tuesday guided the Rockets to victory. Newlin was seven for eight from the field in the third game of the series, but was called for charging with 11 seconds remaining as the Rockets lost, 93-90.
Nissalke doesn't always know what to expect from Newlin, but he does know that the 6-foot-4 guard is going to be in the middle of things when the game is on the line.
"If he (Newlin) does badly when I put him in, I usually take him out," Nissalke said. "however, I'll always put him back in and give him another chance. He's a great shooter and can penetrate for inside baskets."
Phil Chenier, the leading scorer in the series so far with a 26.2 average, usually matches up with Newlin.
Chenier is one of the leaguehs better defensive guards, but he has trouble with stronger players. newlin, who goes 100 per cent all the time, is a strong player.
In sunday's game, Calvin Murphy See BULLETS, D3, Col. 1 BULLETS, From D1 was off, so Newlin replaced him for much of the game. Tuesday, it was the rookie Lucas who was having problems, so Nissalke went to Newlin again.
Lucas played only 26 minutes and went two for six.
"He just wasn't playing that well," Nissalke said. "He'll still start Friday, though, i won't make any changes."
The Rockets are shooting almost 50 per cent from the field in the series, mainly because they are geting the shots they want. "We have some great shooters," Nissalke said. "they'll take some wild shots sometimes, but I don't want them passing up any open shots.
"I know the bullets said they can get any shot they want off us, but I don't want to comment on their defense except to say we can't get any shot we want."
Rudy Tomjanovich finally got untracked and scored 28 points in the fifth game. THe Bullets have used Wes Unseld on the 6-foot-8 tomjanovich much of the time. But the Rocket has as wide a shooting range as any forward in the league, and Unseld has trouble staying with him outside.
The Sixth game of the series will be Sunday at Capital Centre. If a seventh contest is necessary, it will be at the Summit Wednesday.