HOUSTON — Without injured Rafer Alston, it wasn't hard to pinpoint one of Houston's hugest areas of concern Saturday.

Fill-in starter Bobby Jackson scored seven points, dished three assists and shot 3-of-15 from the field in the Jazz's Game 1 first-round playoff series victory over the Rockets.

His's backup, rookie Aaron Brooks, didn't fare much better, shooting 1-for-7.

"Yes, we miss Rafer," Rockets star Tracy McGrady said of Alston, the usual starting point guard who is out with a hamstring strain and also may miss Monday's Game 2.

"We miss his long-range shooting," McGrady added. "We miss his controlling the tempo of the offense. His defensive presence. We missed everything about him."

FREELANCING: Rockets coach Rick Adelman coached against the John Stockton- and Karl Malone-style Jazz in many an NBA playoff game.

Now he's had a peek in postseason play — the Williams- and Carlos Boozer-style.

Not totally alike, the ex-Portland/Golden State/Sacramento coach and current first-year Houston coach suggested.

"These guys, maybe because they're a little bit younger and everything else, they're a little more freelance," Adelman said. "And they'll change up on you, which sometimes causes you a problem.

"But John and Karl were so good, they just executed," he added. "You decided what you're gonna do, and they were gonna beat you somewhere else."

BIG FAN: Williams threw high praise Adelman's way — even though he was still a toddler when Adelman started with the Trail Blazers in 1988.

"I've been a fan of his system since I was watching the NBA," Williams said.

"(The Kings) did a lot of cutting, they had a lot of great passers in their system — both big men and guards," the Jazz point guard added. "They (Adelman's teams) just do a good job of executing.

"They're similar to us. They don't just go out and play 1-on-1 a lot. They have a system, and they stick to it."

TROUBLE? The hometown Houston Chronicle picked the Jazz to win the series in six.

"I don't know if that's good for us or bad for us," Williams said. "You know, Houston might be a little upset about that."

HE SAID IT: Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, asked Saturday if the postseason is a fun time of year: "Oh yeah — because you know, basically, all your players are going to prepare themselves, and you don't have to beg them to play."

THE COMPUTER SAYS: According to a computer formula from the book "The NBA From Top To Bottom," the Jazz are the league's No. 3-ranked team this season — but aren't expected to make it out of the postseason's second round.

That's because author Kyle Wright's formula has Boston ranked No. 1 and the Los Angeles Lakers No. 2, and the Jazz and Lakers are projected to meet in the next round of the playoffs.

The NBA From Top to Bottom is available on-line via www.iuniverse.com or www.sportsfromtoptobottom.com.

JVG ENDORSEMENT: Jeff Van Gundy, who exited as Houston's head coach shortly after Utah's first-round Game 7 victory over the Rockets last year, works now as an ABC/ESPN analyst.

Van Gundy has said he wants to coach again — but not next season.

The former Knicks coach did endorse leading candidate Mark Jackson, the ex-Knicks and former Jazz point guard who now is Van Gundy's ABC/ESPN colleague, for his old job in New York.

Jackson, meanwhile, issued a statement Saturday about the vacancy: "The New York Knicks are one of the most storied franchises in all of sports and I am honored (new Knicks basketball boss) Donnie Walsh has mentioned my name as a candidate."

When Isiah Thomas lost the Knicks job last week, incidentally, the change became the 200th among NBA coaches since Sloan started coaching the Jazz in 1988.

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com