As soon as he saw the practice agenda, which among other things featured work on both offensive and defensive half-court sets, Charles Barkley quickly erased the board.

Paranoia, however, wasn't his motivation."That's better," he said before meeting with the media. "I had to come here and get bugged by you all. I'll practice for a little bit and go play golf."

As far as Barkley was concerned, all preparation for Game 4 of Houston's first-round playoff series with Utah is complete. He expects a war as the Rockets seek to become just the second No. 8 seed ever to win an NBA playoff series. A victory over the Jazz tonight in the Compaq Center would send Houston into a best-of-seven series with San Antonio. A loss, meanwhile, means a trip to Salt Lake City for a winner-advances showdown Sunday in the Delta Center.

"I'm not saying we have to win the game (Friday), but it would be in our best interest," Barkley said. "I don't know what's going to happen in this series. I think we have played real hard and we've got a chance. That's all you can ask for."

Though the Rockets actually have two opportunities to eliminate the Jazz, who had earned home-court advantage throughout the playoffs with a 62-20 record in the regular season, Houston isn't looking past tonight.

Barkley said the Rockets don't deserve to win the series if they fall short in Game 4. The view is shared, albeit to a lesser degree, by many of his teammates.

"It's a situation where we can't take anything too lightly," Matt Maloney said. "We've got to come out and play like it's Game 5."

As such, the Rockets are expecting a dogfight. Mario Elie acknowledged the toughest part of any playoff series is closing a team out. The key for Houston, he said, is sticking to its guns and not worrying about what the Jazz are doing.

"This series is far from being over," Hakeem Olajuwon said. "We are in the same position as Utah. We cannot afford a loss and they also cannot afford to lose. We are not in the driver's seat. The pressure is on both teams. That is the reality."

To combat the tension, Olajuwon said the Rockets need to be patient and make the right decisions in Game 4. Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich said he has no plans to introduce any new wrinkles to the game plan. As they did in the first and third games, the Rockets want to establish an inside game and play good defense.

"We know we're going to take (Utah's) best shot," Tomjanovich said.

The prospect is hardly a nightmare for the Rockets, who will counter with their "Dream."

Tomjanovich said his center, who was slowed during the regular season by a knee injury, wants the ball and the responsibility that comes with it. Olajuwon scored a game-high 28 points in Game 3.

"The ball is going to 'Dream.' They are going to have to figure out a way to stop him. That's been the bread and butter here," Eddie Johnson said. "He got up 26 shots (Wednesday) and I envision him getting up 26 more (Friday)."