CHICAGO -- Orlando Magic center Shaquille O'Neal, when he is on his game, is the most physically imposing center in the league. And teammate Anfernee Hardaway, when he is on his game, is the NBA's most talented and versatile point guard.
The challenge for the Magic going into Saturday's Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals is to devise a game plan where two of the top players in the game don't disappear, which is what happened here on Tuesday in Orlando's 93-88 loss to the Chicago Bulls.
And that plan will have to carried out without Horace Grant, who is lost for the rest of the series with an injury to his left elbow suffered in Game 1.
Grant, who wore a sling while watching Game 2 from the bench, was examined by doctors in Orlando yesterday and was found to have soft tissue damage in the elbow. He could return for the finals if the Magic somehow can get past the Bulls.
"He's very anxious to play," said Dr. James Barnett, Orlando's team physician. "But it's just a situation where he can't go."
Even without Grant, the Magic seemed on the verge of swiping the home-court advantage away from the Bulls on Tuesday, building an 18-point lead in the third quarter.
But then came the disappearing act. O'Neal scored 36 points for the Magic, but had just 10 in the second half. Hardaway finished with 18 points, but attempted just four shots in a second half when he had no assists. That one-two punch being ineffective is why Orlando flew home early yesterday morning down 2-0 in the series.
"In the fourth quarter, it just wasn't running smooth for us at all," Hardaway said. "It's like we lost our confidence. We didn't have anything left to finish the game."
Give the Bulls defense a lot of credit for wearing out the Magic. Trailing by 15 points at the half, Bulls coach Phil Jackson made two key adjustments that swung the game: double-, and at times triple-teaming O'Neal in the post; and having Scottie Pippen drape himself all over Hardaway.
The result was an Orlando offense where O'Neal became swamped. He had a game-high six turnovers (only one less than the whole Bulls team) and when he was able to kick the ball out to the perimeter, the Orlando guards were unable to make their shots. The Magic scored just 35 points in the second half, when they committed 11 of their 18 turnovers.
"Once they did double, we didn't have the good spacing that we normally do," Orlando guard Dennis Scott said. "They would trap the first guy with the ball and if he was able to get out, they would trap the second. You have to give them credit."
Chicago's defensive effort shouldn't be surprising. The team placed three players -- Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman and Pippen -- on the NBA's all-defensive first team. Once the Bulls got in a hole and were forced to press to get back into the game, there was little Orlando could do.
"You can prepare for the press, but you cannot match with your second unit what the Bulls' first unit is like," Magic coach Brian Hill said. "In practice, you can't put on the floor Scottie Pippen, Jordan, [Ron] Harper and Randy Brown to simulate that intense kind of pressure."
Hill, in making his adjustments for Saturday, can only hope that his players don't demonstrate the tentativeness that led to the second-half collapse.
"We lost our aggressiveness," Hill said. "We stopped pushing the ball and we began looking to pass backward. We lost our aggression instead of trying to burn their pressure with easy baskets on the other end."
With Grant out, the Magic will play the rest of the series without its top rebounder. Jon Koncak, who started at power forward on Tuesday, and had just three points and five rebounds in 22 minutes, also is limping on a tender knee. Orlando will finish the series with a size disadvantage, with the biggest reserve used on Tuesday the 6-foot-8 Donald Royal.
Should the Magic figure out a way to get its offense going (the Magic had just two fast-break points on Tuesday), it might want to address some problems on defense that allowed Dennis Rodman to score 15 points. When the Bulls struggled in the first half, it was Rodman and Jordan who scored 10 points each to lead Chicago.
"We've said throughout that we'd like to make Dennis more aggressive offensively," Pippen said. "He looked awkward but for a while [Tuesday] he was carrying us offensively."
Pub Date: 5/23/96