East knows how to D-feat West NBA Finals notebook


CHICAGO -- East vs. West. No contest.

The Chicago Bulls, marching to a third straight NBA title, are simply strengthening the trend that has seen the Eastern Conference champions win the last four titles.

The "Bad Boy" Detroit Pistons began the East's dominance by winning consecutive crowns in 1989 and 1990 with their intimidating defense.

No one knows why, but Western teams always have been perceived as playing finesse, free-wheeling basketball as opposed to the East's more physical brand of half-court play.

"The only difference between the East and West is defense," said Phoenix's Charles Barkley, who played eight years in Philadelphia before joining the Suns this season. "That's something Western teams have to address."

Suns reserve guard Frank Johnson, who spent most of his NBA career with the Washington Bullets, also notes a disparity in styles.

"I remember when the Bullets traded for Gus Williams, hoping he would improve their transition game. But the Eastern teams generally don't allow you to play that style, no matter who you have on the floor.

"But there are some Western teams, like Seattle and Houston, who are pretty physical with their defense," Johnson added. "What it really comes down to is whether you have the right team chemistry. When the Celtics had great success playing Kevin McHale and Robert Parish up front, everyone tried to copy them with twin towers.

"The Bulls are winning because they have Michael Jordan on their side. But finding another Michael Jordan can be quite a problem."

Body language

Chicago power forward Horace Grant said he has been willing to sacrifice his body for the good of the Bulls because he is negotiating a new contract.

"It's right around the corner," said Grant, presently going belly-to-belly with Barkley. "I'm not saying I don't play my heart out all the time. I'm just being honest."

Grant is eyeing a multi-year contract in the $3 million-a-year range. "Put it this way," he said, "I know I'm worth more than the contract Charles Smith signed with the Knicks [a seven-year deal worth $26 million]. Not knocking Charles, but that's how I feel."

As for covering Barkley, Grant said, "It's like trying to learn the two-step -- a lot of bumping, grinding and stepping on toes."

Biding his time

Whenever a coaching vacancy occurs in the NBA, former Bulls coach Doug Collins is listed as a possible candidate. But Collins insists he has no immediate interest in leaving leave his job as an analyst for TNT the past three years.

"I'm in no hurry to get back into coaching," said Collins, 41, who rejected an attractive offer from the Atlanta Hawks. "If I felt sitting out right now would hurt my future chances, then I would feel different. But each year on this job has helped me learn more about the league."

The break from coaching also has allowed Collins to follow more closely the college career of his son, Chris, a sophomore guard at Duke. He also watches his daughter, Kelly, play high school soccer in Glenbrook, Ill.

But what also convinced him to wait was watching Seattle's George Karl leading his Sonics in a playoff game against Houston.

"After the game, I saw George, his shirt ringing wet, and his eyes kind of glassy," said Collins. "It was like looking in the mirror. I said, 'I'm not ready to do that again.' "

Rolling Bull's eyes

Chicago opened the finals as 2 1/2 -1 favorites over the Suns in the Las Vegas sports books, thanks to Jordan's overwhelming presence.

"Those odds were pretty strong for a team with only three home games in the finals," said Russell Culver, who runs the gambling operation at The Mirage. "But to the casual fan, Jordan is the NBA. People bet him no matter what happens."

A little vanity

The father of former Michigan All-America Chris Webber, who figures to be one of the top two picks in the June 30 NBA draft, displayed a sense of humor when the vanity plates on his new car read: TIMEOUT.

Webber, of course, called an illegal timeout in the final seconds of the Wolverines' loss to North Carolina in the NCAA title game.

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