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Bulls’ Itinerary Didn’t Include This

All along the watchtower, not to mention Michigan Avenue, Chicago cops kept a view, but so far, no title, no disturbances and no end to this series.

Out here on the West Coast, it kept raining on the Bulls’ victory parade. Here’s their revised schedule.

Today--Fly home in early hours of morning (chastened).

Sunday--Win Game 6 at home (won’t we?). Convoy to safety afterward with police escort to avoid celebration.

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Tuesday--Ceremony at Grant Park. Prayer of thanks for series’ end, since deployments after Games 4 and 5 each cost $800,000 in police overtime. If it had gone seven games, the headlines might have been, “BULLS WIN, CITY DECLARES BANKRUPTCY.”

Of course, recent Bulls plans haven’t gone so well. Friday night Michael Jordan was supposed to wreak havoc on the upstart SuperSonics for having the effrontery to upset them in Game 4. Jordan stepped into the phone booth, ripped off his clothes, tried to fly and thudded to earth.

He didn’t score the 45 points he’d joked about. He didn’t even match his 29-point series average. Seattle Coach George Karl double-teamed him early, changed up on him after that and Jordan settled for a quiet 26, two in the fourth quarter when the SuperSonics tore the game open, 89-78.

“When they double-teamed, I had to move the ball away, move it around,” Jordan said. “We were not capable of knocking down our shots.

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“I had to trust my teammates to make their shots and they had a tough time shooting the ball today.”

Oops, Jordan is mad at his teammates. One more loss and they’ll be “my supporting cast” again.

Scratch another game plan. In the old days, Jordan always bounced back after bad outings. He bristled at anything opponents said and vowed to destroy them.

Right up until game time, everything was on track.

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The SuperSonics were still celebrating Game 4. It was the topic of the day and everyone had a theory:

The contamination theory--Articulated by teammate John Salley, who said Jordan has “been on this planet so long now, he’s starting to act human. And that’s throwing the humans off.”

Jordan thought that was funny.

The Payton theory--Credited to Gary Payton, guarding Jordan for the first time. Payton made it hard for Jordan to catch the ball in the post for his pet turnaround jumper, so there was something to it.

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Jordan said only one man can stop him and his name wasn’t spelled P-A-Y-T-O-N but J-O-R-D-A-N.

The Wingate theory--When Payton wasn’t on Jordan, the SuperSonics used David Wingate, claiming his physical presence bothered Jordan too.

Jordan wanted to know who David Wingate is.

Game 5, however, never happened for Jordan. Karl started Payton on him again, but this time gave him a lot of help, sending a second defender in as soon as he touched the ball, wherever he was.

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Jordan passed to his teammates. They missed a lot of shots. Gee, imagine that.

Slumping Scottie Pippen missed 15 of 20 and dropped to 33% in the finals. Pippen has been in the tank so long, he must think he’s a goldfish.

Pippen’s game sagged just after the All-Star break. Until then he had played well but, like all the Bulls, especially Jordan and Coach Phil Jackson, he was intrigued by the pursuit of 70 victories and kept playing despite minor injuries. Somewhere in there, he lost his rhythm and confidence.

He acknowledged later he would have rested earlier if they hadn’t been trying to win 70.

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“It’s not just Scottie,” Jordan said. “I don’t think you can single out Scottie. He hasn’t really played well for us, but we need some big baskets by Steve Kerr. We need some big baskets by Toni [Kukoc], Luc [Longley], whoever.

“I wouldn’t particularly point to Scottie. I think he’s playing with a lot of injuries right now. A lot of us are healthy and we’re not really picking up his slack.”

That’s a lot of slack too. Tuesday, the Bulls were taking bows as history’s greatest team. Now it’s their confidence that is sagging and it’s the SuperSonics who have developed a good defensive game plan, which will make someone other than Jordan beat them. Game 6 may be in the United Center, but the SuperSonics will take it.

“I’m not going to sit up here and say something stupid that this [Game 6] is not an unbelievably tough challenge,” Karl said. “But it’s one game.

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“You can philosophize--'Well, they can’t beat Chicago three in a row or four in a row'--it doesn’t matter because when we play, it’s only one game.”

If any more of their plans go down the drain, the Bulls will be working on the greatest choke in NBA history. As weeks go, they’ve had better ones.


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