A look at the matchups in the NBA finals - Chicago (69-13 overall, 11-2 playoffs) vs. Utah (64-18, 11-3):
Chicago (playoff averages)
Michael Jordan (30.5 pts, 8.3 reb, 4.2 ast)
Scottie Pippen (18.8 pts, 6.1 reb, 3.9 ast)
Dennis Rodman (5.0 pts, 8.8 reb)
Luc Longley (6.4 pts, 4.7 reb, 1.0 blk)
Ron Harper (8.7 pts, 4.2 reb)
Karl Malone (26.9 pts, 11.9 reb, 2.6 ast)
John Stockton (16.6 pts, 9.9 ast)
Jeff Hornacek (15.6 pts, 4.9 reb, 4.3 ast)
Bryon Russell (12.6 pts, 4.1 reb)
Greg Ostertag (4.9 pts, 6.6 reb, 2.7 blk)
Toni Kukoc (21.8 mins, 7.8 pts), Jason Caffey (12.5 mins, 3.4 pts, 3.3 reb), Steve Kerr (17.2 mins, 5.3 pts), Brian Williams (16.5 mins, 5.8 pts, 3.9 reb)
Antoine Carr (15.8 mins, 5.7 pts), Shandon Anderson (15.1 mins, 4.7 pts), Greg Foster (15.2 mins, 3.6 pts), Howard Eisley (11.0 mins, 5.7 pts)
Season series (tied, 1-1)
The Jazz handed the Bulls their first loss of the season on Nov. 23, 105-100, as they overcame a 44-point performance by Jordan. Malone scored 36 and Utah, playing at home, took advantage of the ejection of Rodman with 13.9 seconds left. “I wasn’t really interested in the game. I didn’t have my game face on. Karl Malone had 37 points that shows you how interested I was,” Rodman said.
The Bulls got revenge at home Jan. 6 by beating the Jazz 102-89. Pippen scored 24 points, Jordan had 23 and Rodman had 16 rebounds. Chicago opened a 52-26 first-half lead and never was threatened. The first half featured a shoving match between Stockton and Jordan. “We don’t want to lose twice to a team. We don’t want to feel like any team has our number,” Jordan said.
Call it the “been there, done that” factor. This is Chicago’s fifth trip to the Finals in the past seven years, and the Bulls are used to the hype and the pressure. Jordan presents a huge matchup problem for the Jazz, who will have to use Hornacek as his primary defender. Rodman has a way of distracting his opponent, and Utah will have to tune him out. Chicago earned the homecourt advantage by virtue of its 69 regular-season wins, and the Bulls have an astonishing 47-2 record at the United Center.
The 2-3-2 format can benefit the Jazz if they manage to win one of the first two games. They are no slouches at home either, having compiled a 46-3 record at the Delta Center. Malone gives Utah the scoring edge in the low post, and Stockton should have his way against Harper. Although they are first-timers in the Finals, the Jazz are a poised team that should be able to overcome the jitters. They should be able to create open shots - even against Chicago’s tenacious half-court defense.
Did Malone really deserve to win the MVP award over Jordan? Is this the last time the Bulls will be together? Is Utah satisfied just to make it out of the West?
It ain’t easy picking the hayseeds over the cosmopolitans, but the thinking here goes like this: Utah has been playing the best ball in the NBA since the All-Star break, the Jazz had tougher second- and third-round playoff opponents and showed a determination that even Jordan would be proud of. The Bulls have almost been going though the motions, especially in the conference finals against a Miami team that didn’t belong there. The Bulls haven’t had their ‘A’ game in quite some time, and they’re facing an opponent that won’t lay down and roll over. Jazz in 7.