LOS ANGELES -- On the day after his latest, greatest offensive show, Michael Jordan spent a good deal of his time on the defensive.
Less than 24 hours earlier, he had led the Chicago Bulls to a 107-86 thrashing of the Los Angeles Lakers at the Chicago Stadium, evening the NBA Finals at one game apiece. Now, it was Thursday afternoon, and Jordan sat in a folding chair at the Forum, defending himself against a charge by Byron Scott that he had taunted the Lakers once Chicago's victory became inevitable.
"We noticed Michael taunting our bench," Scott said after Wednesday's game. "That's something you just don't do this early in the series. But since he's Michael, I guess he feels he can get away with it. It angers us to see someone of his caliber act that way. But I've seen him do it before, so I'm not surprised."
Was Jordan taunting the Lakers? Scott's teammates said they didn't notice, and Jordan denied doing anything wrong, before the Bulls practiced yesterday in preparation for Game 3 tonight at the Forum.
"I never said one thing to the bench," said Jordan, who scored 33 points in Game 2. "I made some big plays on that end at crucial times in the game and I showed my emotions for those situations as something to keep me motivated, but I didn't angle it at them or try to disrespect them."
Said Scott, "It's got us all upset, and we'll be ready at home."
The Lakers didn't practice yesterday, but may have spent their day tacking the memories of Jordan's performance on their mental bulletin boards. At least one Bull, Scottie Pippen, admitted concern that Jordan's alleged slight might prove to be a rallying point for the Lakers.
"I'm kind of surprised," Pippen said, "but it's over now. What are you going to do?"
Scott's words may have come from frustration, an intangible substance abundant in the Lakers' postgame locker room Wednesday.
"We got a good, old-fashioned whuppin'," Magic Johnson said.
Now, all the Lakers have to do is make sure it doesn't happen again. The next three games are at the Forum, and the task facing the Lakers is clear, though hardly simple. Either the Lakers sweep the next three games and clinch the championship at the friendly Forum, or they must return to hostile Chicago Stadium and try to win the title there in Game 6 or 7. The Bulls have won 16 of their last 17 home playoff games.
As for Wednesday's game, Johnson said, "What we have to do is understand why we got beaten, what happened. They were more aggressive, they were more physical than we were. We've got to turn that around."
In Wednesday's game, it was the Bulls who turned things around, as Jordan went out of his way to get all of his teammates involved offensively.
"It's very similar to Magic's situation," said Bulls guard John Paxson, who hit all eight shots he took in Game 2. "You look up at the scoreboard [early in the game] and Magic may not have many points, but they're ahead and the other guys are all involved. If it comes down to a late-game situation and guys have to take big shots, they're not afraid to step up and take them if they've been involved in the offense early."
"Michael realizes he can't do it all, and we gave him too many looks," Laker forward James Worthy said. "We kind of slipped and lost a little concentration. People were thinking he was going to shoot it and would come to help, and he dished it underneath."
And the subsequent easy inside baskets -- primarily from Horace Grant, who was 10 for 13 -- opened up the Bulls' outside game.
"Once we reach a level of dominance," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said, "which you can feel on the floor, then confusion sets in for the opposition and you just want to keep that momentum rolling."
Two factors should ease the Lakers' confusion tonight: They will be home, where they are 7-1 in the playoffs, and as the most recent losers, they will be the unpredictable ones.
"When you lose, you make more adjustments in your game, you try to counteract," Jackson said.
The biggest adjustment will be how Johnson copes when guarded by Pippen rather than Jordan. After Jordan got in early foul trouble Wednesday, Jackson moved Pippen onto Johnson. Pippen's physical play limited Johnson to 14 points, and, just as important, sapped Johnson's energy.
"We wore each other down," Pippen said. "I was just as tired as he was."
Jackson indicated he'll start tonight's game with Jordan on Johnson, and take it from there.