Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Houston's Strong Death Leaves Orlando Weak

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Houston's Strong Death Leaves Orlando Weak

Article excerpt

The Orlando Magic has learned the hard way. You can't just worry about stopping Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.

The reason the Houston Rockets are bringing a 2-0 lead home to The Summit for Game 3 of the National Basketball Association finals is because Olajuwon and Drexler have gotten so much help. From Sam Cassell's 31 points off the bench Friday night to 38-year-old Charles Jones' play on Shaquille O'Neal, Houston's role players are the ones hurting Orlando - along with the Rockets' two stars.

The Magic's Dennis Scott acknowledged that his team may have focused too much attention on Olajuwon and Drexler. Now they know better.

"Maybe a little bit, but it's not like we disrespect Sam Cassell or Kenny Smith," he said.

"We know they can play, too. But it's just like when teams play us. They'd rather see myself and Nick Anderson beat them than Shaq get down low and get 45. We don't want to see Olajuwon hit 45 or 50."

The problem is, while Olajuwon had gotten 30-plus points in each of the first two games, when he goes to the bench, the Rockets experience neither a dropoff in intensity nor an offensive lull.

When Drexler picked up two early fouls and left the game in the second quarter, Cassell came in and scored 16 points in the period.

"That is the key to our success, to have somebody step up every game," Olajuwon said after Friday night's 117-106 victory. "The last game was Kenny Smith, and this game was Sam Cassell. He did a fantastic job of penetrating and making big steals. Robert Horry was so aggressive and forced a lot of turnovers."

The matchup at point guard, which was supposed to be Orlando's biggest advantage, has been the key for Houston, even though Orlando's Anfernee Hardaway has 58 points in the first two games. In Game 1, Smith had 23 points and his backup, Cassell, played only 11 minutes. In Game 2, Smith never got going and Cassell stepped right in with eight-of-12 shooting and tied his career playoff high.

Horry, deadly from 3-point range in the Western Conference finals, has been superb defensively against the Magic, getting steals, going after loose balls and starting and finishing fastbreaks.

Houston got even more help from Jones, who helped limit O'Neal to 10 - first-half points Friday night, and Chucky Brown, who had eight points in 12 minutes. …

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