Eastern Conference championship series


No. 1 Chicago Bulls (62-20) vs. No. 2 Indiana Pacers (58-24)

Season series: Tied 2-2 (Indiana, 94-83, on Nov. 28; Chicago, 105-97, on Feb. 17; Chicago, 90-84, on March 17; Indiana, 114-105, on April 13).

Last appearance in Eastern Conference finals: Last year, the Bulls defeated the Miami Heat, 4-1, then beat the Utah Jazz, 4-2, in the NBA Finals. In 1995, the Pacers lost to Orlando, 4-3.

Key players: Chicago -- Michael Jordan (32.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, in playoffs), Scottie Pippen (17.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 5.5 apg), Dennis Rodman (16.1 rpg), Toni Kukoc (10.3 ppg). Indiana -- Reggie Miller (21.9 ppg), Chris Mullin (10.8 ppg), Mark Jackson (8.6 ppg, 10.2 apg), Rik Smits (16.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg).

Key matchup: Michael Jordan vs. Reggie Miller. This is just the second meeting between the two since Jordan made some critical remarks about Miller in a national sports magazine. Miller demonstrated the ability to play aggressive defense against the New York Knicks, and he will need that in an attempt to stop the league's best player. If Miller wants to be compared to the game's true stars, he needs to have a big series.

What Chicago has to do to win: Get a big series from Luc Longley, whose job will be to try to stop the 7-foot-4 Rik Smits. And limit the post-up opportunities of Mark Jackson, who will find it more challenging to get into the paint area against the Chicago point guards.

What Indiana has to do to win: Continue the unselfish brand of ball that was successful in the last round against New York. Miller needs to have the playoff series of his life for the Pacers to have any chance.

Intangibles: Miller has something to prove to Jordan, which should provide some incentive to the Indiana guard. Jackson will have to find other ways to hurt Chicago since he won't have that low-post ability this series. The Pacers at times might be more successful with Travis Best at the point, considering quick point guards often give the Bulls problems.

Prediction: Chicago in seven.

Pub Date: 5/17/98

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