HOUSTON (AP) The Houston Rockets remain confident they can rebound from a 3-1 deficit in their first-round playoff series with the Portland Trail Blazers.
But just in case they needed a reminder that such a comeback was possible, coach Kevin McHale had Mario Elie and Hakeem Olajuwon talk to his team as it prepares for Game 5 on Wednesday night. They helped the Rockets bounce back from the same deficit to beat the Phoenix Suns in seven games in the Western Conference semifinals in 1995 en route to an NBA title.
”You focus just on the one game (Wednesday) and shift the game back to Portland (and) there will be tremendous pressure on the Portland team,” Olajuwon said. ”You have no choice right now. You’ve got to focus.”
Despite their pep talk, the Rockets aren’t sugar-coating their situation.
”It’s desperation time,” Chandler Parsons said. ”We don’t want our season to end and if we lose that’s going to happen. All of our backs are against the wall and we’ve just got to be a resilient team.”
Dwight Howard isn’t ready for his first season in Houston to be over, either, and is working to ensure that he and his teammates don’t let another one get away. Three of the four games in this series have been decided in overtime and two of Houston’s three losses were by a total of five points.
”We’ve got to really believe and that’s the only way we’re going to win it,” Howard said. ”It starts with myself and James (Harden).”
Harden scored 37 points in Houston’s lone victory, but has struggled against the Blazers, making just 36 of 103 shots combined in the four games.
Howard said the Rockets are focused on finding a way to finish better.
”We’ve got to go from playing good for 44 minutes to playing for all 48,” he said. ”If we do that, then we’ll turn this series around.”
Portland’s Damian Lillard knows the Blazers will get Houston’s best shot on Wednesday night and this will be their biggest test yet.
”Houston will show a lot of fight,” he said. ”I believe 100 percent that they feel like they can still win the series. It will be hard to put them away. We’ve got to take it up a level because they will try to keep their season alive.”
The Trail Blazers have lost in the first round in their last six trips to the playoffs. A win Wednesday would put them in the second round for the first time since losing in the Western Conference finals in 2000.
”We want to finish the series right now and it’s going to take a lot of focus from our team and a lot of mental toughness and togetherness,” Lillard said. ”That’s the only way we’re going to get it done on the road.”
The Rockets have gotten a boost in the last two games from the play of rookie Troy Daniels. Daniels spent most of the season in the NBA Development League, playing just five regular-season games in Houston, but made the game-winning 3-pointer in Houston’s win and added 17 points in the last game.
McHale plans to use Daniels in Game 5, too.
”We’ve got to incorporate him in there,” McHale said. ”He can make shots. He’s not afraid. He works hard.”
If Houston wants to keep its season alive, it will have to stay focused on trying to slow down LaMarcus Aldridge. He combined for 89 points in the first two games of the series but cooled down a bit in Portland, and had 23 and 29 points in the two games there.
He was unhappy with the way Portland has played in the first quarter of the last two games and said the Trail Blazers are intent on changing that on Wednesday.
”We’ve just got to have a better start,” he said. ”We just have to match their intensity because they’re going to be ready to go.”
Houston point guard Patrick Beverley missed practice on Tuesday with an illness and has been struggling with a knee problem since banging into Aldridge late in Game 1, but McHale expects him to be ready for Game 5.
”I have been concerned about Pat between his knee and not feeling well and everything else,” McHale said. ”He is going to have to show up and play.”