Ten years ago, on April Fools' Day, Houston Rocket guard Mike Dunleavy sank a three-pointer in the closing seconds to eliminate the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers from the playoffs.

Dunleavy, the first-year coach of the Lakers, faces his old team Thursday night at the Forum in another first-round series."Unfortunately, I can't beat the Rockets this time," Dunleavy said Wednesday. "It's one of those things where hopefully it's happened already, and history is not going to repeat itself."

But sometimes it does when these teams meet in the playoffs. In 1986, the Rockets beat the Lakers and proceeded to the NBA finals. Last season, the Rockets lost to the Lakers in the first round, but the Lakers fell in the next series to the Suns.

The four times the Lakers didn't qualify for the NBA finals during the '80s, the Rockets blocked the way.

Last season the Lakers played a mediocre Rockets team. Now they'll have to face a team that won 52 games, a club record, and in one stretch took 29 of 34.

Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon is the main force, with strong guard play from Kenny Smith, Vernon Maxwell and Sleepy Floyd.

"They've got a trio of guards who are big-time scorers," Dunleavy said. "Any one of those guys can go for big numbers on any given night. Inside, they've got Hakeem and Otis Thorpe who can score down low. They've got firepower at every position."

Houston Coach Don Chaney says the key will be stopping Magic Johnson and James Worthy.

"We're gambling if we stop them, the other guys can't beat us," he said.

In other best-of-five series beginning Thursday night, it's New York at Chicago, Philadelphia at Milwaukee, Golden State at San Antonio and Utah at Phoenix.

Friday night, it's Indiana at Boston, Atlanta at Detroit and Seattle at Portland.


The Bulls beat the Knicks all four times this year, and the reason is simple - they kept Patrick Ewing in check. The man responsible is Chicago center Bill Cartwright, Ewing's one-time backup. The Knicks, the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, have lost 10 straight at Chicago Stadium, dating to 1987. Knicks guard Gerald Wilkins is hobbling with a sprained ankle, which hardly makes guarding Michael Jordan any easier.


Philadelphia stumbles into the playoffs. Charles Barkley missed seven straight games because of a sprained left knee, then played in the last three games with a brace. The question is whether Barkley will be ready. Milwaukee Coach Del Harris says the most important thing is to keep the 76ers off the foul line. In their four games (each team won twice), the 76ers outscored Milwaukee by an average of 14 points a game in free throws.


Golden State is riding a five-game winning streak. San Antonio won the division a second straight season but looked shaky toward the end. Center David Robinson has had ample success against the Warriors. This year he has made 70 percent of his shots and is averaging 26.5 points and 15.5 rebounds. San Antonio split four games with the Warriors. The Spurs will look to pound inside to Robinson. Golden State turns to its trio of Chris Mullin, Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway.