Bulls, Heat Feud as Game 5 Looms
The next prediction for the NBA Eastern Conference finals: pain.
Alonzo Mourning came through on his boast before Game 4, and the Miami Heat extended its season with a victory. Now the Chicago Bulls are doing some forecasting of their own.
They didn’t bother to say they will win Game 5; all signs suggest the Bulls will clinch the series Wednesday night on their home court. They did take exception to Mourning’s strong-arm tactics on Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, however, and plan to take appropriate action.
“I saw one of my players with a knot on his head, so that makes it personal,” Michael Jordan said Tuesday in Chicago, referring to the grotesque lump that formed on Pippen’s forehead immediately after a Mourning elbow, which Pippen claims was intentional. “When Scottie got a knot on his head, I got a knot on my head. When Dennis got on the floor and got punched out, we got punched out.
“When your little brother is being picked on and your other brother is being picked on, it’s time for the family to come together and go out and stand strong and be ready to fight. I don’t mean literally fight; I mean in terms of basketball.”
When he appeared at Tuesday’s practice at the Berto Center, Pippen still sported a small mound above his left eye. He called Mourning’s elbow “a cheap shot” and said Mourning has crossed the line throughout the series. “He had an opportunity to throw a lot of cheap shots yesterday,” Pippen said, “but it’s going to be a different game tomorrow.”
Mourning also came across as the rough-houser during his fourth-quarter wrestling match with Rodman beneath the Chicago basket. No punches were thrown, but Rodman claimed, and TV replays confirmed, that Mourning tried to rip his face apart. Mourning was shown with his fingers up Rodman’s nostrils, then grabbing Rodman near the eyes.
Mourning denied any attempt to injure Pippen. He didn’t deny trying to rearrange Rodman’s face.
“You know how I feel about him,” Mourning said. “You know his game. A man can only take so much. I’m just glad nothing happened that impacted the outcome or would impact the series.”
By “impact,” Mourning meant a thrown punch, which would have suspended him for one game. In that respect, Mourning was saved by Heat Coach Pat Riley, who sprinted from the bench and pinned Mourning’s arms to the floor before his center did something that would cost him.
Riley laughed at the Bulls calling Mourning dirty. Riley said the Bulls should look inside their own house first -- meaning, consider the source of the irritation: Rodman.
“I think he’s ridiculous,” Riley said. “The most ridiculous thing to ever come along in the game. Ever. He’s a menace, he really is. He’s a character. He goes beyond just physical play. He’s become a sideshow. And it has nothing to do with being ‘inside anyone’s head.’ He hit ‘Zo in the head with an elbow. That’s not getting inside someone’s head. That’s trying to hurt someone. He went knee-first into (John) Crotty.”
Rodman has received at least one technical foul in all of Chicago’s 12 playoff games. NBA vice president Rod Thorn telephoned Rodman about the wrestling incident and the league is reviewing the matter, although no suspensions are expected.
“They should review him after every game because he gets away with absolute murder,” Riley said.
By extending the series beyond the holiday weekend, the Heat managed to get the Bulls’ attention. What Miami doesn’t have from the Bulls is their respect. The Heat would have to do something drastic first, such as preventing Jordan from rebounding from a poor game (9 of 35 from the field). Or beating the Bulls a second straight time in the playoffs.
Both are pretty steep chores facing the Heat Wednesday night. History says Jordan atones extremely well, so expect a ballistic performance. History also says the Bulls rarely lose consecutive games in the playoffs; that’s happened only twice in their four championship years.
On top of that, it could get ugly, although Jordan took steps to define what he meant by “personal.”
“ ‘Personal’ could be go out and play with a lot more intensity than normal,” he said. “It doesn’t mean throw elbows, kill people, do any of that stuff. I’m not saying we’re going to do that. I’m saying we are going to raise our level of basketball as we did against the Detroit Pistons years ago when they made it personal when they were beating us up.”
Actually, both the Heat and the Bulls are guilty of being too physical.
“There were some things said and done out there on the court by Miami that obviously go beyond the level of what we consider fair sportsmanship,” Bulls Coach Phil Jackson said. “But who are we to say? We’ve got Dennis Rodman.”