Bullets hope to muzzle rampaging Bulls

March 19, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

Before welcoming his twin brother, Horace, and the Chicago Bulls to the Capital Centre tonight, Washington Bullets forward Harvey Grant was asked if the NBA's defending champions had any apparent weakness.

Harvey rolled his eyes and said: "None. There is no way you can exploit them." Still, he said that such talk did not indicate abject surrender.

"We usually play them tough," Harvey Grant said. "But sometimes, you almost get the feeling that they're playing with you like a cat with a mouse. They let you hang around, and then they blow you away."

A lot of opposing teams have experienced that same hopeless feeling this season while the rampaging Bulls have rolled to a 55-12 record and a 10-game lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers, their closest pursuers in the Central Division.

NBA rivals took false hope that the controversial book, "The Jordan Rules," about Chicago's championship season, would somehow cause disharmony among the Bulls this season.

But that only helped bring petty grievances to the surface, which were readily confronted, and, as Harvey Grant said, "I think the controversy only made them stronger."

Added brother Horace, who leads the Bulls in rebounding, "As long as you're on a team with Michael Jordan, you're always going to be in his shadow. But I think that each year, myself and [small forward] Scottie Pippen have taken our games to a new level to help Michael out when he's having a rare off night."

And the confidence that comes with winning a championship and growing maturity has helped boost the contributions of youthful reserves B.J. Armstrong, Stacey King, Will Perdue and Scott Williams.

"They're extremely tough to beat on both ends of the floor," said Bullets assistant coach Bill Blair. "Defensively, they are hard to defend because you have two exceptional one-on-one players in Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen who discourage the double team.

"And, if you gamble by doubling Jordan or Pippen, then great open shooters like John Paxson or Craig Hodges will spot up and kill you."

Blair says he believes it is just as difficult attacking the Bulls, with Jordan and Pippen overplaying the passing lanes, looking for steals.

"They might be the quickest and second-quickest defenders in the league," Blair said. "Even if you beat one of them, there is a good chance they'll still block your shot," he said. "They steer you toward the forwards and get excellent weakside help from Grant."

Cavaliers coach Lenny Wilkens believes the keys to upsetting the Bulls are aggressive defense and keeping Jordan off the foul line.

Jordan did his best to prove last season that he was more interested in winning a championship ring than in personal glory. And he seems to be following the same pattern this year. His league-leading average of 29.9 is his lowest in six years.

Pippen, on the other hand, has become more assertive, raising his scoring average more than three points (21.0), but still leading the Bulls in assists (7.1) from his small-forward position.

Because Jordan and Pippen can be so spectacular offensively, fans tend to overlook the Bulls' defense, which holds opponents to fewer than 100 points a game on average. Only three other teams -- the Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs -- share that honor.

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