Jackson whipping Bulls for their 'three-peat' drive Champs' intensity under scrutiny

December 29, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

If it had not been for Henry V, William Shakespeare migh have had the regal Chicago Bulls in mind when the bard wrote, "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown."

The Bulls are certainly a restless and cantankerous bunch these days when their every game and every utterance tends to become the subject of psychoanalysis.

They are winning at a .731 pace, second only to the on-fire Phoenix Suns (.833). But because most of their victories have come after a fourth-quarter rally or a spectacular offensive show by Michael Jordan, courtside critics are questioning their commitment to their three-peat quest.

"It's almost impossible to maintain that intensity and generate en- thusiasm after you've won two straight titles," said Brendan Malone, an assistant coach with the Detroit Pistons, who won back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990. "We went through the same thing in '91.

"The Bulls have enough talent to breeze through the regular season, but I don't know if you can turn the intensity on and off once you reach the playoffs."

Bulls coach Phil Jackson, who is a master of psychology and mind games, is well aware of this potential problem and has been priming his team by giving early-season confrontations with his team's principal rivals a sense of urgency.

That was certainly the case of the Christmas Day clash with the New York Knicks, who had extended the Bulls to seven games in last season's Eastern Conference semifinals.

Jackson hardly had to motivate his team after the Bulls absorbed a 37-point shellacking in New York on Nov. 28. But he still found it necessary to respond to Knicks coach Pat Riley's "We get no respect" whine.

After the Bulls' swarming defense smothered the Knicks in the second half to gain a measure of revenge, 89-77, Jackson said of Riley's gang: "I think they're old. They've got Patrick Ewing, who's 30. And Rolando Blackman, who's 33. They're players with a lot of habits, an accumulation of public failure. But my team can only go up."

Jackson, known as an enforcer as a frontcourt reserve for New York's championship teams of 1970 and 1973, curiously criticizes today's Knicks for being overzealous.

"Christmas is a giving day, a holy day, and it's a meaningful day of peace and light and a celebration of life," he said. "But this [New York] is a team that wants to decapitate and quarter us. You have to come and fight on the court with guys who foul you on every possession."

Christmas Day was a humbling experience for the Knicks. Said Riley, who coached the Los Angeles Lakers to four titles: "I know the attitude of championship teams. You have to raise your game to another level and beat them once or twice. I know they don't respect the Knicks, but I'm not asking them to get down on their knees."

More Bull

Responding to stories that some of his Olympic teammates last summer are showing signs of fatigue, Jordan said: "Karl Malone is not scoring as much, and Clyde Drexler is hurt. But Charles Barkley and me, we're playing pretty good."

Barkley, who has triggered the Suns' 13-game winning streak, and Jordan are early favorites for MVP.

Farewell speech

Recalcitrant Sherman Douglas appears to be a short-timer in Boston after the Celtics re-signed John Bagley last week. Coach Chris Ford is less than happy with the way management babied Douglas when he left the team for "personal reasons" and did not draw a fine.

But Douglas could hardly have endeared himself with the Celtics veterans when, after being relegated to the bench, he said: "We're not an athletic team. I'm used to playing with better athletes."

Go figure

The Golden State Warriors won six of eight games after injured all-purpose forward Billy Owens was replaced by Tyrone Hill.

Nets fans howled after New Jersey passed over Owens in favor of point guard Kenny Anderson in the 1991 lottery. Anderson wallowed on Bill Fitch's bench, and Owens made the all-rookie team. Now Anderson is wowing them in the Meadowlands, and Owens' worth to the Warriors is being questioned.

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