PHOENIX — PHOENIX -- Help!
That will be the operative word on defense for both the Chicago Bulls and the Phoenix Suns, who begin the best-of-seven NBA Finals tonight at the America West Arena.
Suns rookie head coach Paul Westphal acknowledges no single defender will neutralize Bulls superstar Michael Jordan or his Olympic sidekick Scottie Pippen in their pursuit of a third straight championship.
On the other end of the court, Bulls coach Phil Jackson is equally concerned in finding ways to control Most Valuable Player Charles Barkley's inside game and point guard Kevin Johnson's slashing drives to the hoop.
"When you have great players like Jordan and Pippen, you can't expect one guy to guard them without help," Westphal said.
He has assigned rugged swing man Dan Majerle to shadow Jordan wherever he goes. Asked what Majerle might best use in his unenviable assignment, Westphal laughed and said, "Majerle can't stop him, but no one else can. Jordan is the greatest player to ever live. Anyone you put on him is just there. Michael will do what he wants to do. All you hope for is that he misses some shots."
Said Majerle: "I don't think anyone can stop Jordan. You just try to wear him down, and keep running different guys at him. For me, this is a great challenge. I'm going to try to deny him the ball as much as possible. In this series, I'll be much more concerned with my defense than my offense."
Actually the Suns are more worried about the duel at small forward, where rookie Richard Dumas will face Pippen, who proved more of a headache to New York than Jordan in the Eastern showdown.
Dumas, a second team all-rookie pick, sat out the deciding game of the Western finals, a demotion Westphal said was necessitated by Dumas' inability to check Seattle's Derrick McKey. Westphal opted for the bigger Tom Chambers.
"Richard has trouble matching up against big forwards on th Lakers, Sonics and Knicks," said Westphal, "but he did a nice job checking [San Antonio's] Sean Elliot. Pippen is the standard for small forwards in the league, but I wouldn't count Richard out."
Dumas seems unperturbed.
"I'm sure the Bulls are going to go right at me, being a rookie," he said. "But people forget Pippen will have to guard me on the other end.
"I just have to play my natural game and not try to do anythinout of the ordinary. If I make mistakes, I'll just have to play through it."
The Bulls are equally concerned in keeping Barkley and Johnson under wraps. Jackson assigned B. J. Armstrong to police Johnson and Horace Grant will guard Barkley.
"We want to make Johnson think as much as possible," said Johnny Bach, Jackson's defensive guru. "We want to give him a lot of different 'looks' on defense, make him back up and decide how to attack it. We can't allow him the penetration he got against Seattle.
"But we have faith in Armstrong. He did a good job stopping Mookie Blaylock and Mark Price in our earlier series.
"With Barkley, we want to keep running our 'Dobermans' at him when he is isolated in the corner. You don't want him going 1-on-1 against anybody."
Jackson said the Bulls also have to be careful not to engage in "a track meet" with the Suns, whose up-tempo style produced a league-high 113.4 points a game.
"We like to run under control," he said, "but the Suns really push the ball up the floor, and it opens things up for their three-point shooters, especially Majerle and [Danny] Ainge.
"I think the Lakers had the right idea in slowing the tempo, dictating a half-court game. We'd like to take that same approach."
The Suns won more regular-season games, but the Bulls are favored in the finals because of their considerable edge in experience.
Ainge, who played on championship Boston Celtics teams and reached the finals last year with Portland, said the Suns cannot be compared with those teams.
"The Celtics and Blazers were totally different," said Ainge. "Their key players were together a lot longer. Barkley, myself, Dumas and Frank Johnson are all new to Phoenix this year.
"If we had reached the finals against the Bulls a month ago, we probably would have been swept in four games. But we all grew up as players in our tough series with the Lakers and Sonics, and Westphal matured as a coach, too. We're a lot better prepared now."
NOTES: The Bulls were forced to practice yesterday on a smaller court in the arena basement. Japanese martial art performers were using the main floor. "If we lose," said Grant, "I'm going to scream conspiracy.". . . . Jordan broke his vow of silence only long enough to tell the media horde to clear the court for practice. He reportedly had a golf date with Barkley and Ainge. Said Ainge: "I've beaten Mike badly several times and vice versa. But I have no respect for Barkley's golf game. He just keeps us laughing. . . . Ticket scalpers were getting as much as $1,500 for $150 seats for the opener.
BULLS VS. SUNS
(Best of seven) Day .. .. .. .. Site .. .. .. Time
Tonight .. .. at Phoenix .. .. 9 p.m.
Friday .. .. at Phoenix .. .. 9 p.m.
Sunday .. .. at Chicago .. .. 7 p.m.
June 16 .. .. at Chicago .. .. 9 p.m.
June 18* .. ..at Chicago .. .. 9 p.m.
June 20* .. ..at Phoenix .. .. 7 p.m.
June 23* .. ..at Phoenix .. .. 9 p.m.
* If necessary
TV: Chs. 2, 4
NBA FINALS MATCHUP
CHICAGO BULLS (57-25) vs. PHOENIX SUNS (62-20)
Point guard B. J. Armstrong, Chicago, vs. Kevin Johnson, Phoenix: Armstrong has quickness, but is used primarily as spot-up shooter by the Bulls. Armstrong (12.3 ppg) led the NBA in three-point accuracy (.453). Johnson (16.1 ppg) had an injury-plagued season, limiting him to 49 games. But he regained top form in the Western finals against Seattle. Edge: Phoenix.
Shooting guard Michael Jordan, Chicago, vs. Dan Majerle, Phoenix: Jordan showed signs of fatigue, mentally and physically, after tough series with New York and negative publicity about his gambling habits. But Jordan, who won his seventh straight scoring title (32.6), remains the game's most potent weapon. He settled for his outside shot more against the Knicks, but could drive more against a slower defender in Majerle. Majerle matches Charles Barkley's aggressive style and will not be intimidated by Jordan. Edge: Chicago.
Center Bill Cartwright, Chicago, vs. Mark West, Phoenix: Cartwright, 35, could be playing his final season for the Bulls. He averaged a career-low 5.6 points this season, but his bulk and experience helped to neutralize the Knicks' Patrick Ewing in the Eastern finals. West, 33, like Cartwright, is most valuable to the Suns as a defender. Edge: Phoenix.
Power forward Horace Grant, Chicago, vs. Charles Barkley, Phoenix: Grant does all the dirty work for the Bulls, but an ankle injury hindered his mobility and rebounding until the last three games against New York. He led Chicago in rebounding (9.4). Barkley (24.2 ppg, 12.2 rpg) helped to seal his MVP season with two 40-point-plus games against Seattle in West finals. His physical presence and inside scoring provided the missing piece to the Suns' title drive. Edge: Phoenix.
Small forward Scottie Pippen, Chicago, vs. Richard Dumas, Phoenix: Pippen seemingly shed his "soft" label for good with an outstanding series against the Knicks. He scored 24 or more in four of the six games. Pippen led the Bulls in assists this season (6.3). Dumas had a strong rookie season, averaging 15.8 points, but he saw limited action in the Western finals, averaging 5.2 points and was benched for the deciding game in favor of veteran Tom Chambers. Edge: Chicago.
Bench The Bulls are not as strong as last season, when Cliff Levingston and Craig Hodges were mainstays, but coach Phil Jackson spots Scott Williams, Will Perdue and Stacey King up front and uses John Paxson's perimeter shooting to open up inside. The Suns once boasted the deepest bench in the league, but the loss of injured Cedric Ceballos, a gifted fast-break player, could prove costly. Coach Paul Westphal seemingly has lost faith in backup guard Negele Knight, preferring veteran Frank Johnson as prime back-up at the point. Danny Ainge, scoring threat Tom Chambers and Oliver Miller will be vital reserves. Edge: Phoenix.
Prediction The Bulls have been in the finals twice before, and the revamped Suns still are getting acquainted. Bulls in six.