CHICAGO -- Through one game of the NBA Finals, it's clear that the Utah Jazz is not in awe of the defending champion Chicago Bulls. And yet while the Jazz realizes it can play with -- and beat -- the Bulls, it also understands it can ill afford another wasted chance.
"You know, against a great team, you are not going to get a ton of opportunities," Jazz point guard John Stockton said. "You have to take advantage of the ones you get, so we are disappointed."
Disappointed in Sunday's 84-82 loss in the opener, courtesy of a Michael Jordan buzzer-beater. At the same time the members of the Jazz are confident they can respond in tonight's Game 2 and tie the series.
"It was a tough loss for us," said Jazz forward Karl Malone, whose two missed free throws with nine seconds left preceded Jordan's game-winning basket. "But what we look at is all the things that we didn't do well -- we had nine turnovers in the third quarter and you take away half of those, and it's a different game.
"We have to bounce back and we will bounce back," Malone added. "That's the nature of our team."
Bouncing back for the Jazz will be easier to accomplish if Malone -- he of the bulging biceps and 256-pound frame -- makes an attempt to add an inside presence to his game, instead of relying on his newly found perimeter shot. When he's close to the basket, Malone is hard to stop. And yet of his 10 field goals Sunday, four were layups. The other six were jumpers, five of which came from at least 17 feet away from the basket.
Maybe it was Malone being pushed more from the basket because he was facing Chicago's 7-foot-2 center Luc Longley. Maybe his success with his jumper this season makes him more comfortable from the perimeter. Whatever the reason, Chicago coach Phil Jackson would be thrilled if Malone were to continue ** his Patrick Ewing impersonation.
"Luc's big body is effective against Malone inside so he doesn't get so many easy quick looks in the lane," Jackson said. "Down the stretch [of Game 1] he hit two or three jump shots that hurt us. We know that he is going to get some of those, but it's better than him getting three-point opportunities or our team getting in foul trouble."
While the Jazz spent its second day in a row yesterday answering questions about what it can do to beat Chicago, the Bulls' media session played like a huge soap opera. Will Jordan ** return? Will Scottie Pippen be traded? Will Jackson come back as coach, and for how long?
Those story lines followed the team all season, and were fueled more yesterday by published reports. One paper said that Jackson had spoken to Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf about
returning with a new, one-year contract.
"No, it's not true. Seeking [talks with Reinsdorf] was the word," said Jackson, who rarely speaks with the Bulls owner. "Sam Lacey kind of jumped it a little bit. [Jackson actually was referring to Chicago reporter Lacy Banks.] I think Sam's on the right track."
In another paper, Jordan was said to be ready to return to the Bulls next season, at a one-year price of $36 million.
"Do I deserve a raise? I don't know," Jordan said, when asked about the figure. "I'm waiting for my [end of the year] evaluation."
Jordan did continue to hint that he did not want to play for another coach although, with $30-plus million at stake, one gets the impression his words are more of a bargaining tool to aid Jackson.
"I think positive all the time [about Jackson's return], and I think things are going to work out," Jordan said. "I don't want to break in a new coach, have him asking me what to do. I'm not getting his check, and he's definitely not getting mine."
Although the Bulls had a little fun dealing with their sideshow yesterday, it was not an indication that they are taking this series lightly. On the contrary, Jordan describes the Jazz as one of the toughest playoff opponents they have faced this season.
"They have maturity and two factors, Malone and Stockton," Jordan said. "They are great players and they are connected. Mentally, they know what they are going to do and know each other. We haven't played a team that is that connected in a long time in any series that I can remember, where they have seemed so fundamentally sound offensively."
So far the Bulls have found themselves struggling through the first games in all of their series this year -- a 98-86 win over the Washington Bullets in the opening round, a 100-97 win over the Atlanta Hawks, an 84-77 win over the Miami Heat in the conference finals, and Sunday's two-point win over Utah. And that has led to further questions about a dormant Chicago offense.
"You guys have been asking me about that ever since we have been playing in the playoffs," Jordan said. "And yet here we are, one game up in the finals and hopefully we can keep on winning.
"Yeah, it's a concern," Jordan added. "The most frustrating thing is that we haven't played better offense than what we have played thus far. But I can't say we have played better defense. If we can keep our defense consistent, we hope that at some point in time the offense is going to kick in."
Which very well may mean Jordan being able to come through again with some late-game heroics.
Utah reserve Antoine Carr was asked what was the best way to keep that from happening again.
"How do you stop Jordan?" Carr said. "Well, see, you take a GPS -- Global Positioning Satellite -- and put it on him. Take a nuclear bomb. 'Boom.' "
Sorry, Antoine. That sounds like it would fall under the heading of an illegal defense.
NOTES: Pippen said his sore left foot prevented him from practicing again yesterday, but he will be ready for Game 2. Malone said the sore on his right hand that kept oozing in Game 1 won't be fully healed until the season is over.
Chicago vs. Utah
(Best of seven)
Bulls lead series 1-0
Date .. .. Result/Site .. .. Time
Game 1 ... Chicago, 84-82
Today . .. At Chicago ... .. 9 p.m.
Friday ... At Utah ... .. .. 9 p.m.
Sunday ... At Utah ... .. .. 7 p.m.
June 11 .. At Utah ... .. .. 9 p.m.*
June 13 .. At Chicago ... .. 9 p.m.*
June 15 .. At Chicago ... .. 7 p.m.*
* -- If necessary
TV: All games on chs. 11, 4
Pub Date: 6/04/97