Despite first-game loss, Bulls expect last laugh Its scoring a two-man act, jovial Chicago seeks more rim shots from troupe


SALT LAKE CITY -- From Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson came jokes about Dennis Rodman's character. Michael Jordan made cracks about his own newfound affinity for piano playing to Jackson's practice of Zen Buddhism. For a team that trails the NBA Finals for the first time since its first of five titles in 1991, the Bulls yesterday appeared to be in a pretty good mood.

"Because I think we have an inner strength and inner confidence for ourselves and what we can accomplish," Jordan said yesterday. "And [losing] one game does not deteriorate that."

However, dropping two games could put the Bulls into a crisis mode, and that's what Chicago will attempt to avoid in tonight's Game 2 against the Utah Jazz.

If you include two regular-season games, the Bulls have now lost three straight games to the Jazz. And including the recently completed seven-game series against the Indiana Pacers, the Bulls have now dropped four straight playoff games on the road. But that doesn't alarm the Bulls as much as losing a golden opportunity in Wednesday's 88-85, overtime defeat.

"Karl [Malone] didn't have a great game; we felt that if we were going to steal a game out of here, [Wednesday's] should have been that game," Scottie Pippen said. "But we feel very good. We feel that our confidence is very high. We sent this team into overtime, and we feel we just have to play much better in the next game."

That would mean getting help for Pippen and Jordan, who combined for 54 of Chicago's 85 points.

For much of the night, the Bulls were tentative. Three-point specialist Steve Kerr passed up open looks and took just three field-goal attempts in 27 minutes; Ron Harper, after hitting his first two shots, didn't score; and Toni Kukoc missed eight of 12 from the field.

"We'd like other guys to step up and take pressure off the both of us, and when we do that we're a much better team," Jordan said. "[Wednesday] it was a two-man team in some respects, when it should have been more than that."

Utah didn't have such a problem, as coach Jerry Sloan had 10 players on the court for at least 10 minutes. So while Jordan and Pippen were playing extended minutes and battling fatigue (Jordan, who played 46 minutes, called a fourth-quarter timeout because he was exhausted), the Jazz was fresher in overtime.

Especially Stockton, 36, who had seven points in the extra session. It helped that he was on the court for just 35 minutes; backup point guard Howard Eisley was effective in his 23 minutes (including several playing alongside Stockton). Like Stockton, Eisley is a heady player. Add in his quickness, and he provides problems defensively for the Bulls.

"He's continued to build on the confidence that he gained from last year. He's been vital for us all season long," Stockton said of Eisley.

Eisley had six assists and scored eight, helping the Jazz to a 22-8 edge in bench scoring.

"I would like to see our bench score more," Pippen said. "More importantly, I'd like to see our bench match the intensity of their bench."

NBA Finals

Chicago vs. Utah

(Utah leads series 1-0)

TV: Chs. 11, 4

Game 1 Utah, 88-85, OT

Today at Utah 9 p.m.

Sunday at Chicago 7: 30 p.m.

Wednesday at Chicago 9 p.m.

Next Friday at Chicago 9 p.m.*

June 14 at Utah 7: 30 p.m.*

June 17 at Utah 9 p.m.*

*-If necessary

Pub Date: 6/05/98

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