Pacers seek release from pressure Down 2-0, Jackson must break free of Bulls' Pippen

May 23, 1998|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

From the Chicago Bulls' standpoint, it's solid pressure defense. To the Indiana Pacers, it borders on assault. How effective has Scottie Pippen's defense been on Indiana point guard Mark Jackson? Effective enough that few are giving the Pacers a chance to get back into the series.

"I don't know what type of adjustment they can make," Pippen said.

That's the stage for Game 3 today at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, where the Bulls take a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference final series against the Pacers.

Indiana is a perfect 5-0 at home in the playoffs this season. But even if the Pacers win a game -- or even two -- at home, they face the nearly impossible task of winning four of the next five games to dethrone the defending NBA champions.

"We're playing back in Indiana and I know the guys will play well and show that they really belong," said Pacers coach Larry Bird. "We'll come out aggressive and play hard like we have all year."

If you ask Bird and the Pacers, the main concern is simply allowing Jackson to play.

The Indiana organization believes that the 6-foot-7 Pippen, an All-NBA defensive team forward, has been allowed to play a bit too physical against the 6-3 Jackson. The result: Jackson, who entered the series with a 4.1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio (the best in the playoffs entering the conference finals) has been reduced to 1-to-1 in this series (14 assists, 14 turnovers).

"I'd like to see Pippen guard Michael Jordan the way he does Mark Jackson. We'd see how long he'd last," Bird said after the Game 2 loss on Tuesday. "He got away with a lot of bumping and chest contact."

Bird's complaints were mildly surprising to the Bulls.

"That's a sign that he's a coach," Michael Jordan said. "I think back to the day when he was playing. We certainly complained about all the calls that he was getting. Now he's truly a coach."

Maybe the biggest concern of the Bulls, who are 3-0 on the road in the playoffs this year, is the behavior of Dennis Rodman. With a contract heavy in incentives, Rodman has been on his best behavior for most of the year.

But in the first quarter of Game 2, and later in the third quarter, Jackson looked toward the bench for Rodman and didn't find him. An assistant trainer has had to run to the locker room both times to get Rodman, who has come off the bench in the first two games.

His teammates have not been thrilled with the behavior of Rodman, who missed a practice before the start of this series after a nearly weeklong partying binge to celebrate his 37th birthday.

"This is a crucial time of the season, and the last thing we need is some [garbage] from Dennis," Jordan said. "We've been unhappy with some of his antics of late -- being late for practice, not showing up where he should be. If anybody's going to miss practice, it's going to be me and Scottie. We're the oldest. As long as we're here, he should be here."

Even with Rodman being pretty much a nonfactor (he's averaging 6.5 points and 8.0 rebounds in 23.5 minutes), the Bulls have won. And with Jordan dominating each of the first two games at the end -- his 41-point effort Tuesday marked the 35th time he has scored at least 40 in the playoffs -- the Bulls will be tough to beat.

And they will be impossible to beat if Jackson, Reggie Miller (9-for-27 from the field) and the Pacers fail to combat the Bulls and their aggressive defense.

"I think everything has been solid with the exception of turnovers," Jackson said. "We need to be more aggressive. That's the only way you're going to beat Chicago. You can't play with finesse. You've got to play with power."

Pub Date: 5/23/98

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