Charles Barkley was all smiles when he strolled out of the Delta Center just before midnight Saturday. The Rockets forward was his usual glib self as he stopped to speak with reporters and friends after Utah's 105-90 win in Game 2 of their NBA playoff series.

"Utah played terrific in the second game. They played well and did what they had to do," Barkley said. "But we did what we had to do, too. Obviously Wednesday is going to be a very pivotal game."Pivotal, he explained to the media, means important. Thanks Chuck. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand the magnitude of Game 3 as the series shifts to Texas.

Rockets coach Rudy Tom-jan-o-vich expects the balance of the best-of-five series to be as physical and intense as Game 2.

"I think you have two really good teams here," he said. "And it's looking like a great series."

Tomjanovich and Clyde Drexler were whistled for technical fouls, while Hakeem Olajuwon picked up two in quick succession to earn an ejection in the fourth quarter. Seconds later, Barkley left the game after a flagrant foul on Jazz guard John Stockton. It was his sixth personal. The play made Utah coach Jerry Sloan "want to throw up," but Barkley didn't seem all that concerned. In fact, he claims he wasn't even aware Stockton retaliated with two shoves.

Barkley had other things on his mind, and complaining about the officiating wasn't one of them.

"It's almost midnight. That's very considerate of TNT, isn't it?," Barkley said of the national cable television network as he got dressed. "It's even inconsiderate for the people of Utah. And they've got nothing to do here."

Barkley, for obvious reasons, wasn't too happy the Rockets would spend most of the night flying back to Houston - estimated time of arrival, 5 a.m. (CDT).

Home, however, is a welcome sight to the Rockets.

"The Jazz worked the whole season to get the homecourt advantage," Olajuwon said. "Now we have it. How can you complain about that?"

Perhaps, knowing his team can win the series with victories at the Compaq Center Wednesday and Friday, that is what kept Barkley smiling.

"If you want tickets to the next round," he jokingly told Karl Malone's wife, Kay, after a brief visit. "Give me a call."