SHOOTING GUARD - Michael Jordan vs. Hersey Hawkins
Seattle coach George Karl has said that he will have Hawkins defend Jordan at the start of games, with Gary Payton getting the assignment at the end of the games. Hawkins, at 6-3, finds himself at a tremendous disadvantage against the 6-6 Jordan. The same will be the case with Payton, even though he was the NBA's defensive player of the year. Look for Jordan, already averaging 32.3 points in the playoffs, to increase on his scoring average.
POINT GUARD - Ron Harper vs. Gary Payton
Harper's role with this Chicago teams is mainly as a defender, although he did step up his perimeter shooting during the Eastern Conference finals against Orlando. Payton, after shutting down Utah Jazz guard John Stockton for much of the Western finals, will get someone of a break defensively as long as he's matched against Harper. If Seattle wants to be competitive, Payton will have to have a huge offensive effort in the series.
CENTER - Luc Longley vs. Ervin Johnson
Having faced Alonzo Mourning, Patrick Ewing and Shaquille O'Neal through the first three rounds of the playoffs, Longley has taken his lumps. Which is why this series will be a relief, with the Sonics lacking a physical presence in the middle. Look for the Bulls to get Longley involved offensively early. While Johnson starts for the Sonics, Sam Perkins usually finishes games at center. That could take away the effectiveness of Longley, if he ++ has to chase Perkins out beyond the three-point line. If Longley is ineffective against Perkins, the Bulls will go small, with Toni Kukoc most likely assigned to Perkins.
POWER FORWARD - Dennis Rodman vs. Shawn Kemp
This will be the most watched match-up of the series. Say what you will about the weirdness of Rodman, but he has been the key ingredient to Chicago's playoff run averaging 13.3 rebounds (57 offensive boards). Kemp has displayed this season, and throughout the playoffs, that his game is no longer limited to soaring dunks. He has shooting range up to 18 feet from the basket, and proved himself a clutch player by hitting key free throws down the stretch in the deciding game of the Utah series. Kemp must keep his head going against Rodman and his antics, and he much also avoid the foul trouble that kept him on the bench for much of the Utah series.
Small forwards - Scottie Pippen vs. Detlef Schrempf
This is an intriguing match-up, matching the speed of Pippen against the size of the 6-foot-10 Schrempf. Both players are extremely versatile, although Pippen has not exactly been at the top of his game shooting 41.5 percent through the playoffs. Schrempf is averaging 15.9 points in the playoffs, shooting 48.9 percent from the field.
+ Advantage: Pippen, slightly
Coaches - Phil Jackson and George Karl
In the battle of the minds, the finals features two coaches who honed their skills in five years in the CBA. Jackson won his first NBA coach of the year award on the strength of his team's NBA record 72-10 season. He's the only coach in NBA history to win a championship in both the NBA and CBA (Jackson coached the && Albany Patroons to the 1984 CBA title). Jackson's .726 winning percentage is the highest in NBA history. Karl in 1991 coached the Patroons to the best record in CBA history (50-6), but with the Sonics he's best known as the leader of an underachieving team.
The Bulls have three centers as reserves (Bill Wennington, James Edwards and John Salley) as they put together a playoff roster feared toward stopping Shaquille O'Neal. Against a Seattle team with no dominant center, those reserves will play little. Kukoc and Steve Kerr provide scoring off of Chicago's bench, and Randy Brown will often be asked to defend Payton. For the Sonics aside from Perkins (12.7 ppg in the playoffs), there is little in terms of scoring. Seattle needs guard Nate McMillan (4.9 ppg, 40.3 shooting percentage in the playoffs) to shake his offensive slump.
Chicago is well rested, having locked up the Eastern Conference title on Memorial Day. The Sonics struggled through a grueling seven-game series with Utah that ended on Sunday. The Bulls have homecourt advantage, and lost just twice at the United Center this year. Teams with homecourt advantage have won eight of the last 10 finals. Also the Bulls have experience, with Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, Salley and Edwards all having NBA championship series experience.
Bulls in four.
' Pub Date: 6/05/96.