The Houston Rockets figure to have a different look Tuesday night when they face the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in Game 2 of the Western Conference final playoff series.
Coach Bill Fitch of the Rockets promised to "change everything" after his team dropped a 119-107 decision to the Lakers Saturday in the opening game of the best-of-seven series.
So while the Lakers enjoyed a practice-free Sunday, the Rockets were hard at work, trying to figure out a way to make their running game more effective and, at the same time, slow the fast-breaking Lakers.
After 38 minutes of play Saturday, the Lakers led the Rockets, 100-86, mainly because they had outscored them by 40-15 on fast-break points. When it was over, Los Angeles had achieved an efficiency rate of 28 conversions (field goals or free throws) in 45 transition opportunities.
"We kept the pressure on, kept dogging their guards," said Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has scored at least 25 points in eight straight playoff games. "We tried to get them running up and down the court as much as we could, and I think the cumulative effect wore them down."
"Somewhere along the line, Abdul-Jabbar's got to stop the fountain-of-youth stuff and be human," Fitch said.
The Rockets' running game might be more effective if they had a true point guard engineering their break. But they don't -- Robert Reid is being used at that position and that's not his natural spot. He has been a forward for most of his eight years in the NBA.
"Robert's done a great job for them, but they don't have a real point guard," Lakers swing man Michael Cooper said. "I think it'll work to our advantage."
Lakers Coach Pat Riley said, "It isn't the guys on the wing that make the running game. It's the point guard who determines if you run and how well you run."
Like Cooper, the 6-foot-8 Reid can be used at several positions. Reid became Houston's starting point guard late in the season when John Lucas was released.
Magic Johnson, the Lakers point guard, is only an inch taller than Reid, but point guard is Johnson's natural position. Johnson had 26 points and 18 assists Saturday; Reid had eight points and eight assists.
Reid acknowledged he didn't have a good game, but said that he has performed well as a point guard.
"What happened when they the Lakers came down to Houston late in the regular season and we beat them?" Reid asked. "I played the point. I shot the ball well. We moved the ball.
"What it's going to come down to is you have to take each game one at a time. Saturday, I shot four for 12. That's pitiful. A point guard is supposed to hit those shots.
" . . . When you look at the stats, I think I'm averaging two turnovers a game. I pat myself on the back for that . . . If anyone thinks I'm being overcautious, fine. I'll be overcautious. This is the playoffs and each possession, the ball is so valuable."
Reid realizes the Rockets have to do some things differently in order to be successful. "We've got to push the ball up the court , otherwise, it's five seconds off the clock," he said. "When we become a walk-up team, it's my fault. I'm the one not pushing it.
"Our fast break isn't like the Lakers, where Magic Johnson will dribble through four guys. When I get it, I'll take two, three quick bounces and look. Where's Lewis Lloyd ? Where's Rodney McCray ? Then I'll make the pass and we'll cut and weave off it."
"We have to play a little harder, get back on defense better and keep them out of the lane more," the Rockets' Ralph Sampson said. "The guys have to rotate when Kareem has the ball. You have to know where to rotate from because he is such a good passer and Magic goes down the lane. Hopefully, I'll come out more aggressive and offensive-minded."
Cooper, who has played in 415 consecutive games, including the playoffs, was unable to practice with the Lakers today because of a skin rash. The Lakers said Cooper was to see a physician, at which time his status for Tuesday night would be determined.