CHICAGO -- As far as duels of the titans go, this one went at halftime. This wasn't the NBA's version of the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers, more like the Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals.
The Chicago Bulls can be the Cowboys, but who in this league is going to be their 49ers?
It wasn't the Orlando Magic, who scored 38 points in the second half and fell without a fight yesterday, 111-91, in a game that will be chiefly remembered for a non-basketball play -- Shaquille O'Neal's trunks falling down.
The 7-foot-1, 330-pound Orlando center wears shorts big enough to make a circus tent. Late in the game, his drawstring snapped and the Big Top sagged over his hips. O'Neal had to leave and change on the bench, his modesty protected by his tights while Bulls fans wolf-whistled, another illustration of how difficult it is to play on the road.
O'Neal's only complaint was that he was called for a foul on the play when the string snapped.
"Somebody was pulling on my shorts," he said later. "The string didn't break by itself. You tell me."
Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, who combined for 84 points in last week's nationally televised game were held to a total of 37 yesterday, combining to shoot 13-for-37 from the field, making only four shots in the second half.
It might have been different for the Magic, except that Toni Kukoc, the unhappy Bull on this season's Sunnybrook Farm, came off the bench feeling something strange: confidence. Kukoc had 28 three-point baskets all season but made three in an 80-second burst in the second quarter, three more in 66 seconds of the fourth and scored 24 points in his 23 minutes. He made six of eight three-point attempts.
Kukoc has long been the odd Bull out. Jordan and Pippen first resisted management's attempts to recruit the Croatian star, then playing in Italy. At the 1992 Olympics, Pippen went out of his way to embarrass Kukoc as a way of protesting the Bulls' priorities.
When Kukoc came, Jordan retired, although that was coincidental. When Jordan returned, however, Kukoc, who had been blossoming, withered.
On a team with 11 blissed-out players, Kukoc has moped about his decreased playing time.
"I think he's so threatened or feels so threatened by me being here," Jordan said, "some of the offense and some of the contributions coming through Scottie and myself, not through him, and that's something he can't be worried about."
Last spring when the Magic knocked them out of the playoffs, the Bulls double-teamed O'Neal and were shot dead by Horace Grant, Dennis Scott and Nick Anderson. Yesterday, they let Luc Longley try it one-on-one. O'Neal had 33 points, but his teammates fell into a pattern: Throw the ball into the big guy.
The Magic shot 70 percent from the field in the first quarter, 40 percent after that. What was there to say but, this wasn't such a big game after all?