At end of road, Bulls may be home free Chicago hopes to bTC claim sixth title in eight years without returning to Utah

June 12, 1998|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

CHICAGO -- As he spoke yesterday about putting an end to the season of the Utah Jazz, Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan spoke in terms of an assassin.

"We don't just stab them. You have to turn it once you stick it in, or they'll continue to fight," Jordan said. "We have to put the foot down and twist it, and [Game 5 is] the time to do it."

The Bulls, up 3-1 in the NBA Finals, do not want to go back to Utah.

Jordan's motivation is to win the championship here at the United Center, before the home fans.

For Scottie Pippen, a Game 7 in Salt Lake City on Wednesday would conflict with his "Last Dance" victory party scheduled for the same night here at the Navy Pier.

"I have no business in Utah at all," Chicago's Dennis Rodman said. "Those people are a different breed."

A return to Utah for a Game 6 on Sunday evening may only prolong the inevitable for the Jazz, who, except for a game-saving overtime effort by John Stockton in Game 1, would have been swept. That's shocking because Utah beat Chicago both times during the regular season, and the Jazz had been playing its best basketball of the season during the season's second half and in the playoffs.

But at no time has the Jazz seen a team play defense as well as Chicago. The Bulls' swarming style has kept the Jazz from scoring more than 88 points in a game in the series. Utah had averaged 104 points in its Western Conference finals series sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Utah's lack of success has been the continued failure of stars Karl Malone and John Stockton to produce in the fourth quarter. Stockton's job has been tough because of constant double teams. Malone was only 1-for-3 in the final quarter of the Game 4 loss and the team's leading scorer was, at times, not even looking to shoot. When he did, it was mostly jump shots.

One of his inside attempts, in the fourth quarter, was uncontested layup that Malone could have dunked. He missed.

It left coach Jerry Sloan wondering about his team.

"I told them the most important thing is that I hope you can learn something from how important it is to play intelligently," Sloan said. "Hopefully we'll come out and play [tonight]. I'm not sure we really realized the magnitude of a playing situation like this, because the way we started [Wednesday's game] was not indicative of what we wanted to do."

Rodman, who has ducked the off-day media sessions since the series returned here on Sunday, actually sat down and spoke to reporters after his six-point, 14-rebound performance that included a strong defensive effort against Malone. Rodman had been criticized by the media for missing Monday's mandatory media session, with some even suggesting he be released -- even if it cost the team a title.

"I never have to prove anything to anybody in this country or in this business, because they can, you know, they can kiss my . I don't give a damn what they think about me."

And Rodman continued to take verbal jabs at Malone, who many expected to dominate in the series. Malone hit only two field goals on Wednesday when Rodman was on the court.

"I think the referees have given me the freedom and the luxury to play Karl Malone in this series," Rodman said. "If they let me do that, then Karl Malone is not effective against Dennis Rodman at all.

"The only person that I am even intimidated by is my ex-wife," Rodman added. "If [Malone] wants to be my ex-wife, then I'm intimidated."

Rodman was asked whether Malone has shrunk while being in the spotlight in the NBA Finals. The Utah power forward did not play well in last year's finals, either, the same season he won the league's Most Valuable Player award.

"I've always said that if you put a guy, besides Michael Jordan, on the spot," Rodman said, "that most superstars cannot come through in the clutch."

Rodman should be credited for a lot of Malone's failures, although the Mailman won't admit that.

"Everybody is experts now," Malone said, when asked about his difficulties against Rodman. "I have opportunities to score on Dennis as well as Luc [Longley], and I just haven't. It's no excuses. But in a situation like this, all you [media] guys have all the answers."

NOTES: Rodman has volunteered to pick up the funeral expenses for James Byrd, a resident of Jasper, Texas, who was killed while being dragged by a pickup truck in what the local sheriff's office described as a hate crime.

"My heart goes out to the family, and it's a damn shame when something like this happens," said Rodman, who is from Dallas.

Jordan has won the MVP in each of the five Chicago title runs. With Pippen's contributions on both offense and defense, he was asked whether he felt like he was deserving.

"I don't know," Pippen said. "Should I?"

A check by the Associated Press with Chicago-area ticket brokers found that what are usually the cheap seats -- $40 each in the regular season -- are selling for $700 for Game 5. Moving down to the $90 seats will cost between $1,200 and $1,600. Tickets for courtside seats -- with face values ranging from $120 to $425 -- are going for $4,000 on average but as much as $9,000.

NBA Finals

Chicago vs. Utah

(Chicago leads 3-1)

Date Res./Site Time

Game 1 Utah, 88-85, OT

Game 2 Chicago, 93-88

Game 3 Chicago, 96-54

Game 4 Chicago, 86-82

Today at Chicago (-5 1/2 ) 9

Sunday at Utah 7:30*

Wednesday at Utah 9*

* If necessary

(Line in parentheses)

TV: Chs. 11, 4

Pub Date: 6/12/98

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