GALVESTON, Texas -- Hakeem Olajuwon is as optimistic as anybody about the Houston Rockets' chances in the playoffs. He wants to slip a ring on his finger as much as any teammate, probably more.
But when he hears his buddies talking about a championship, about being one of the teams to beat for the title, he gives a little grimace and shakes his head.
"We can't look too far down the line," Olajuwon said yesterday as the Rockets began preparations for the first-round series against Portland that begins here Friday.
"We all know what is ahead, but forget the NBA championship. We need to concentrate about Friday's game only. You can think about the title, but if you lose in the first round, which is possible, then you've wasted everything.
"Portland is basically the same team that played for the NBA title twice. They are very experienced and very talented. And they are going to be ready to play."
So, for the moment, Olajuwon would just as soon see everybody put those predictions about a quick disposal of the Trail Blazers on the back burner. Consider it the voice of playoff disasters past speaking.
Olajuwon, who will be in the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 NBA seasons, spoke on a variety of topics as the Rockets finished their practice at the Texas A&M; University-Mitchell Campus in Galveston. He said the fact the Rockets beat the Blazers four times without losing during the regular season doesn't carry a lot of weight.
"The regular season is over," Olajuwon said. "It means nothing. We can't let Portland's record deceive us. They are a quality team. I expect it to be a tough series.
"The thing is to take it one game at a time. Friday's game is very, very important. That could shift the pressure. Right now, the pressure is on us. We have to win the first game.
"When we win the first and second games, then the pressure will be on them. We're in good position. But one mistake and the home-court advantage will be lost."
Olajuwon will be involved with former University of Houston teammate Clyde Drexler in a playoff series for the first time since 1987, when the Rockets dusted the Blazers in the first round.
Going against Drexler, a guard for Portland, tugs at the heartstrings a little, but Olajuwon said it is no different than playing anybody else.
"[Vernon] Maxwell has done a tremendous job against Clyde this season," he said. "It's going to be fun going against him. Hopefully, I'll get to tease him throughout the off-season."