According to radio reports, Jazz point guard John Stockton hasn't practiced since Game 2 on Saturday night.

KFAN 1320 AM reported Wednesday morning that Stockton was suffering from lower-back problems and that it would be a game-time decision whether he'd play.GENTLEMAN CHUCK: Houston Rockets forward Charles Barkley was a perfect gentleman during media availability after practice Tuesday in Houston.

As the Rockets prepared for Wednesday night's Game 3 of their first-round NBA playoff series with the Utah Jazz, Barkley politely answered questions about Game 3 of the series with Utah and even supplied "you're welcome" to a handful of thank yous.

Barkley's mood, however, turned dark when a television reporter asked Sir Charles about his hernia.

"I'll let you know if there's any (bleeping) change," Barkley said. "I feel great. It's a great time for basketball players and basketball fans . . . I'll be there (at Game 3) with bells on."

DR. MALONEY IS IN: Matt Maloney didn't hesitate when asked if the Jazz and Rockets were getting too physical or merely just playing mind games with each other.

"There's no equal distribution in this series," he said. "Mainly, you just can't let the little things bother you."

STOPPING STOCKTON: Barkley expressed his respect for John Stockton, whom he flagrantly fouled at the end of Game 2. Though he hoped Houston's guards would pick up where he left off when the series resumes.

"I want them to stay aggressive. John is a great player. He's very intimidating," Barkley said. "He plays very hard and uses every little trick."

The key, Barkley preaches but does not practice, is not to react.

"I think with (Stockton), you've got to make him try to work for every step," Maloney said. "You've got to pick him up at the halfcourt line."

LONG LAYOFF: The Jazz/Rockets series went four days between the second and third games, longer than any other series. Not a single Jazz player liked having so much time between games - probably because it gave coach Jerry Sloan the chance to get in a couple of hard practices.

The Rockets, meanwhile, weren't as upset by the delay. Houston's Eddie Johnson, who turns 40 next week, welcomed the extra preparation time so that his and his teammates' older bodies could recover.

"I guess we have to thank the league or TNT - whomever - who decided that out of the four games on Saturday, to move our game all the way to Wednesday," said Johnson. "I'm sure they had a choice of which game, but I guess they were figuring Utah would sweep us, so they didn't want Utah sitting around for six days (waiting for the second-round opponent), so they moved our game to Wednesday."

TAG, YOU'RE IT: Center Greg Ostertag vowed prior to the series that he was going to make up for a subpar regular season by coming up big in the playoffs.

"All year I let down the fans, I let down my teammates and I let down the coaches," he said.

"Here is a golden opportunity to step up against a good team - a great team - with great players that you can't take lightly."

It was the same old story for Ostertag in the series opener. He was clearly beaten badly several times on defense by Hakeem Olajuwon and Kevin Willis. Ostertag managed only two rebounds and he missed two big free throws late in the fourth.

But Ostertag was much improved in Game 2, pulling down a team-high 11 boards in 26 minutes and playing solid defense on Olajuwon and Willis.

HISTORY LESSON: The Jazz have been tied 1-1 after the first two games in the best-of-5 opening round of the playoffs seven previous times in franchise history. They went on to win four of them, losing three.

This year marks the fourth time the Jazz have split the first two games of the opening playoff series at home. The Jazz beat the Denver Nuggets in their first-ever playoff appearance in 1984 after splitting the first two games at home. But they lost in 1990 (to Phoenix) and 1995 (to Houston) in similar circumstances.

SHOOTING BLANKS: The Jazz led the league in free throw percentage as a team during the regular season, making 77.3 percent. It's been a struggle from the foul line for the Jazz in the playoffs, however.

Utah has made only 50-of-78 foul shots in the first two games - 64.1 percent. Karl Malone has been outstanding, making 18-of-21 (85.7 percent), but the rest of the team has struggled. The worst offenders have been Stockton (5-of-11) and Bryon Russell (7-of-13).

The Rockets are shooting 78.5 percent from the line. To put that in perspective, they have taken only one more free throw in the two games, but have scored 12 more points from the line than the Jazz.

QUOTABLE: "One-on-one is like watching corn grow. It's not very exciting. This is a five-on-five game."

- Jazz coach Jerry Sloan