CHICAGO -- Practice? Who needs practice?
It's every high school basketball coach's worst nightmare.
Dennis Rodman is a hero.
Rodman made four free straight throws in the final minutes last night, lifting the Chicago Bulls to an 86-82 victory over Utah in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
Rodman, a 55 percent free-throw shooter, created an uproar by appearing at a live wrestling show outside Detroit after missing practice Monday.
But once again, he got the last laugh.
Not only did "Rodzilla" make six of his eight free throws, he grabbed 14 rebounds in 30 minutes and helped limit Karl Malone to two points in the fourth quarter.
"I've got a bum hand, ligament damage in my thumb, but what the heck, it's all about putting your [guts] on the line," Rodman said.
The Jazz rallied from a seven-point, fourth-quarter deficit to tie the score with 3: 15 left, but Michael Jordan scored on two drives in the final 2: 14, and Rodman finished Utah off.
"I can never figure this guy. I won't even start," Jordan said. "One day he's wrestling, the next day he's defending. We have come to live with it.
"Somehow, he's always ready to play the game of basketball, especially when time is really of the essence. He went to Detroit to put pressure on himself, to come out and play the game with a lot more competitiveness, I guess.
"He may go wrestle [today]. He may not show up for practice, I don't know. But he seems to excel in adversity. And we have to come to grips with that. It's amazing."
Jordan finished with a game-high 34 points. Scottie Pippen added 28. No other Chicago player scored in double figures -- not even Rodman, who shot 0-for-3 from the field.
The Bulls shot only 37 percent. They missed 13 free throws. But they again out-rebounded Utah, with Rodman pulling down a game-high seven offensive boards.
So, will Rodman be at practice today?
"There's the $10,000 question for you right there," coach Phil Jackson said, referring to Rodman's fine by the NBA for skipping Monday's media session. "Yeah, I expect him to be there -- with bells on."
In any case, the Bulls are now within one victory of their sixth NBA title in the '90s, an astonishing run that likely is in its final hours.
Take a good look at them tomorrow night -- Jackson, Jordan and Pippen, even Rodman. It may indeed be their last dance, their last glorious stand.
The fans sense what is coming -- Jordan was greeted by hundreds of flash cameras the moment he was introduced, and every time he shot a free throw.
Game 5 now looms as the Bulls' grand finale, their version of the Beatles' "Let It Be" album.
"Let It Be" -- how appropriate.
If only management would sing along.
The only people happy about Jordan's possible retirement are all those NBA stars who could never win a title with him active.
Patrick Ewing. Charles Barkley. And, of course, Malone.
"The Mailman" is an 11-time All-Star. He was the league MVP last season. Few outside of Utah care. Malone is about to be 0-for-2 in The Finals.
Indeed, the back-to-back losses to the Bulls would be a major blemish on his career, even if he is one of the great power forwards in NBA history.
Tell it to Jordan, whose ability to win championships repeatedly was questioned during his first six seasons.
Malone shot horribly in Games 1 and 2, disappeared after a strong start in Game 3, and faded again against Rodman in Game 4.
He has not exerted his will. He has not dominated inside. He has not lifted his team, as Jordan has time and time again.
"He can do anything he wants on Luc [Longley], but on me he can't," Rodman said. "I've got too much heart."
John Stockton led the Jazz's fourth-quarter comeback. The Utah bench wound up again outscoring Chicago's, 30-8. But Malone again sputtered in the clutch.
So, don't ask about the fatigue that the Bulls faced after their seven-game series against Indiana, or the distraction created by Rodman's absence Monday.
As always, Jordan and Co. could not be bothered with such piddling issues.
Their 42-point victory in Game 3 sent a devastating message and will be remembered as the turning point of these Finals.
Still, a victory last night and the Jazz would have tied the series and reclaimed home-court advantage, with two of the next three games at the Delta Center.
The Bulls understood the stakes, even while their fans prepared to celebrate. The Bulls weren't about to let the Jazz up for air.
They're now 33-4 in the playoffs at the United Center. They haven't lost at home in the Finals since June 18, 1993.
More bad news for Utah: No team in NBA Finals history has ever recovered from a three games-to-one deficit.
Pippen again played like the series MVP last night, hitting four three-pointers in the first half, and finishing with nine rebounds and five assists.
Stockton, on the other hand, scored only seven points on 3-for-11 shooting. Malone finished with 21 points, but only 10 after the first quarter.
The Jazz tied the score on a driving layup by Jeff Hornacek with 3: 15 left. But in the end, Utah suffered the ultimate humiliation, getting beaten by a player who coach Jerry Sloan said he wouldn't want.
"Dennis likes to back himself into a corner, then come out of it with shining laurels," Jackson said."
Don't look now, America.
Dennis Rodman is a hero.
Pub Date: 6/12/98