Michael Jordan old at age 34? Maybe he’s slowed some, but teammate Steve Kerr doesn’t think the end is near for the NBA’s biggest star.
“He can play 10 years. In three or four years, maybe he’ll start on a decline. But when you’re declining from a mile above everybody else … in 10 years, at the age of 44, he could probably be a good shooting guard in the NBA,” Kerr said.
“At 54, he could be an average shooting guard. It’s all relative.”
2-3-2 format favors Bulls
The Bulls realize how crucial it is to protect their homecourt during the first two games against the Utah Jazz.
That’s because the next three are scheduled for Salt Lake City under the 2-3-2 finals setup.
“It’s tough,” Michael Jordan said. “It puts the onus on the first two games. You lose one game and lose the homecourt advantage, you’ve got to play out there in Utah three straight games, where they’ve only lost three games. We have to take care of our business here at home. It’s a tough way to live.”
Coach Phil Jackson has seen the setup work both ways.
” The first year we were in the Finals, we lost the first game and all of a sudden it was panic time, and then we won the next four,” Jackson recalls of the 1991 title series against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“The next year, we lost the second game after we looked so dominant in the first against Portland.
“In our third championship year, we started on the road and won our first two away games but then could only win one out of three at home,” he said of a six-game victory over Phoenix.
“It really doesn’t matter at this point. The best team’s going to win in the championships. And fortunately it’s been us when we’ve been there.”
This is the 13th season since the NBA switched from the 2-2-1-1-1 format. Only three times since 1985 has the team with the three middle games at home won the series: Boston in 1985, Chicago in 1993 and Houston in 1995.
Sloan faces team he played for
Jerry Sloan was scrappy and emotional during his playing days with the Chicago Bulls. It’s carried over to his time as coach of the Utah Jazz.
“You didn’t want to run into him because he would fall down on the floor and get the offensive foul,” said Bulls coach Phil Jackson, who was a player with New York when Sloan played for Chicago.
“He was a physical player, so you wanted to retaliate and you’d get called for another offensive foul and you’d be angry.”
The Bulls retired Sloan’s No. 4. He played for Chicago from 1966-76 and his number hangs both in the United Center and at the team’s practice facility.
One vs. two for 15th time
If the Bulls win the championship, they will split $2,045,750. If they lose, they will divide $1,639,750.
The Jazz would split $1,821,750 for winning and $1,415,750 if they fail to unseat the Bulls as champions.
Included in the $7 million playoff pool are rewards for best overall record and best conference record.
The Bulls (69-13) and Jazz (64-18) had the best records during the regular season.
The teams with the two best regular-season records have met in the NBA Finals 15 times, including last season when Chicago was 72-10 and Seattle 64-18.
It’s a long way there
No active player has been in as many playoff games without winning a championship as Utah’s John Stockton. He has played in 121 postseason games. Teammate Karl Malone’s run is 111. Between Stockton and Malone are New York’s Charles Oakley (119), Seattle’s Sam Perkins (118) and Houston’s Charles Barkley (115).
The record for playoff games without a championship is held by Elgin Baylor (134). Baylor played nine games for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1971, then decided to retire. That ‘71-‘72 team went on to win a then league-record 69 games and defeat the New York Knicks in the Finals.