Respect is lot of Bull for Sonics Jordan & Co. dwarf 64-win West titlists

June 05, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

CHICAGO -- It is a team that won 64 games in the regular season. A team that placed two players on the All-Star team. A team that boasts the league's top defender.

Under normal circumstances, taking those credentials into the NBA Finals would carry a little weight. But what the Seattle SuperSonics are finding out is that their impressive season hasn't earned them the least bit of respect.

That's because the Sonics had the misfortune of breaking out of their longtime playoff slump the same year that the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls were winning a record 72 regular-season games. And when the 1996 NBA Finals begin here at the United Center tonight, few are giving the Sonics a chance.

Few, that is, save for the Sonics. And maybe some of their close relatives. Maybe.

When the Seattle players arrived in town yesterday afternoon for quick practice, they at least talked a good game.

"We have a good shot," said Sonics guard Gary Payton, the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year. "We're going to go at them, and we're going to try to win a championship."

Many feel that the Sonics can only "try" not to get swept. Even though only eight games separated the teams this season, and even though they split their two games (Dennis Rodman sat out a 97-92 loss in Seattle), there's a feeling that the Sonics have about as much chance against the Bulls as Peter McNeeley had against Mike Tyson.

Why else would two people walk into a Las Vegas casino on Monday and wager $500,000 on the Bulls to win the series? Talk of a sweep is so intense here that a headline in yesterday's Chicago Tribune read "Sonic broom?"

Though Jordan is confident, he doesn't want the Bulls to get caught up in the "sweep" hysteria.

"When you start falling into that trap of 'we're going to sweep this team' and bring a broom to the first game, then you lose focus of what your objectives are," Jordan said. "And that's to win each and every game, and not to win all four games in one game."

What the Bulls will have to fight off tonight is the rust that has accumulated since winning the Eastern Conference title on Memorial Day against the Orlando Magic. The Bulls yesterday seemed eager to end their nine-day hiatus.

"I think our team is enjoying the fact that we were able to heal all the wounds that we had in the two series prior to this one," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said. "The sharpness and crispness is going to be lost a little bit. We know that Seattle brings a lot of momentum to this series."

The word "relief" may be a better description as the Sonics, after a 3-1 lead, were extended to seven games by Utah in the Western Conference finals. Interesting was the contrast of the two teams in winning the conference titles: the Bulls were businesslike and the Sonics celebrated wildly.

"I looked at [Seattle's] locker room on TV and I thought they had won the championship," Jordan said. "I'm pretty sure in 1991 we probably felt that way.

"We are very, very happy [to be in the Finals]," Jordan added. "But we still have to win the ultimate and when that time comes, you are going to see the celebration, believe me."

And right there is the contrast in the confidence of the two teams. While Payton speaks of having "a good shot" and trying "to win a championship," Jordan speaks of when that time comes. The Bulls know that to put their stamp on being mentioned as one of the best teams ever, they have to seal it with a title.

"It would be half tainted," Jordan said, "if we can not accomplish this last step."

Seattle guard Hersey Hawkins sees that as putting pressure on the Bulls. "If they don't win the championship, it's been a bad season for them," Hawkins said.

But All-Star forward Shawn Kemp added: "In the back of your mind you're telling yourself you have to play the best ball you ever played. Because you're playing one of the best teams ever."

NBA Finals

%

Chicago vs. Seattle

(Line in parentheses)

Day .. .. .. .. Site .. .. .. .. Time

Today ... .. .. at Chicago .. .. (-9) 9 p.m.

Friday .. .. .. at Chicago .. .. .. . 9 p.m.

Sunday .. .. .. at Seattle .. ... 7: 30 p.m.

Wednes. . .. .. at Seattle .. .. .. . 9 p.m.

June 14* ... .. at Seattle .. .. .. . 9 p.m.

June 16* ... .. at Chicago .. ... 7: 30 p.m.

June 19* ... .. at Chicago .. .. .. . 9 p.m.

TV: All games on chs. 11, 4

*-If necessary

Pub Date: 6/05/96

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