Phil Jackson vs. Jerry Sloan. Jackson has four championship rings, Sloan has never been to the finals as a player or coach. Jackson is used to the distractions and the pressure, Sloan has never experienced it. Jackson doesn’t call as many plays because he lets Michael Jordan freelance. Sloan calls every play on every possession, even after an offensive rebound. He says John Stockton has never shaken him off.
Ron Harper vs. John Stockton. Harper isn’t really a point guard; the Bulls don’t have one. Scottie Pippen and Jordan do almost all of the ballhandling and Harper is more of a spot-up shooter and bailout option. Stockton, on the other hand, is the epitome of the point guard. The league’s career leader in assists and steals, he also raised his offensive game in the conference finals.
Advantage: Jazz, huge.
Michael Jordan vs. Jeff Hornacek. The greatest basketball player in the world vs. a scrappy, streaky, smaller player. Jordan will be out to prove he should have been the MVP, and Hornacek draws the unenviable task of trying to guard him. Hornacek fouled out once all season, but players guarding Jordan have a way of accumulating fouls. If the Bulls, however, move Jordan over to guard Stockton, Hornacek will make them pay.
Advantage: Bulls, huge.
Dennis Rodman vs. Karl Malone. The key matchup in the series, especially since Rodman will try to frustrate Malone and get under his skin. Malone is susceptible to such antics, but he’ll be able to average his 30 points if he keeps it from bothering him. Rodman was a key factor in last year’s championship round against Seattle, but he got a lot more leeway from the officials back then.
Scottie Pippen vs. Bryon Russell. Pippen suffered a tissue injury to his foot in the last game of the conference finals, and it’s unclear how much it will affect him. Assuming he’s near full strength, he should be able to outperform Russell. Pippen’s quickness, range and height make him a tough cover for anybody, but Russell has defended well in the playoffs against Eddie Jones and Clyde Drexler.
Luc Longley vs. Greg Ostertag. Longley will be able to clog the middle since Ostertag plays near the basket, but he’ll have to be careful double-teaming Malone because Ostertag scores off such switches. Backups Brian Williams of Chicago and Greg Foster and Antoine Carr of Utah will play extended minutes, and Utah’s threesome is a bigger all-around offensive threat.
Steve Kerr, Jason Caffey, Jud Buechler, Randy Brown and Williams vs. Howard Eisley, Shandon Anderson, Carr, Foster and Chris Morris.
Kerr is battle-tested at making big shots, and Utah does not have a spot-up shooter off the bench to match him. Caffey is decent insurance for Rodman, although he’ll have a tough time guarding Malone. Energy guys Buechler and Anderson are a wash, as are Brown and Eisley at backup point guard. The Jazz bench will see more cumulative playing time than Chicago’s.