CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls looked back with barely a shrug yesterday morning. Onward, they said, as they prepared for the Eastern Conference finals with a new-found determination if not a softer-spoken one.
"But what we did show everyone is that we are a talented team when we play basketball, and that's something we're going to try to do from here on. Whoever we face, the type of basketball we played Sunday is what they're going to have to beat."
That's the challenge to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who open the Eastern finals tonight in the Chicago Stadium after a Game 7 rout of Boston on Sunday.
The Cavs, who won two of five regular-season games against the Bulls -- the last was a 115-100 Cleveland romp April 14 when Jordan was out with knee tendinitis -- remember well their last postseason meeting with the Bulls.
Jordan foiled the Cavs' dreams before their home crowd with his famous last-second, double-pump shot over Craig Ehlo from the top of the key in the deciding fifth game of the first round of the 1989 playoffs, a stunning disappointment for Cleveland that was followed by two seasons of injury-plagued misery.
The Cavs had won the six regular-season meetings leading up to that playoff series. The Bulls then reeled off 12 straight victories over Cleveland, a string broken by the Cavaliers' one-point win Feb. 17 at the Stadium.
"It will be a very competitive series because of what we've done against them since I knocked down the shot," said Jordan, who scored 46 points in that February loss. "We've seemed to play exceptionally well against them, and they've seemed to crumble in the last few minutes.
"They have a mental block now against us, so that's one good thing we have over this team. But they're very talented, so it's the little things that will make the biggest difference, because they're very fundamentally sound."
Chicago coach Phil Jackson said he fears the matchups in a series that will feature the hulking but skilled Brad Daugherty against Bill Cartwright, savvy Mark Price against John Paxson and shot-blocker Larry Nance against Horace Grant.
"We have to be very worried about this team," Jackson said.
At the same time, as Scottie Pippen admitted, "it's a relief" to have the Knicks series behind them and to know that open wounds will be only a slight possibility against the Cavs. "I think it will be a lot cleaner than the New York series," he said. "There will still be some hard fouls, maybe some flagrant fouls. But overall, the game will be cleaner."
"Cleveland's style of play is diametrically opposed to what New York is all about," noted Jackson. "Stylistically, they're a finesse team and a ball-movement passing team, which is much like we are.
"But they have a great bench and strong talent and a very big team, so we have to respect that. They have three-point shooters and players with experience. They've been through some battles before, and they know how to play together."
It is a distinctly more talented offensive team than the Knicks that the Bulls now face. And a bigger one, too, albeit less physical.
Grant is likely to find himself at small forward when the Cavs go with their "big" lineup by bringing John "Hot Rod" Williams off the bench to team with Daugherty and Nance.
The Bulls, said Jackson, will have to keep up the defensive pressure they exhibited in Sunday's series clincher against the Knicks. Offensively, the defending champs are eagerly anticipating a return to the up-tempo style that was stifled against New York.
"We know we can take the ball up and down the court against Cleveland," Jackson said.