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Bulls Are Two Good : Suddenly, Things Are Looking Bad

These are the finals?

If someone had told Karl Malone, John Stockton and the guys what it was going to be like, they might not have dreamed about it all their careers.

Two games into it, already halfway to elimination. So far, it doesn’t look like one of their favorite memories.

Here I am, missing two free throws at the end of a tie game!

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Here I am, with Michael Jordan hitting the game-winner over me!

Here’s a shot of three of us, leaping in unison like dolphins at Sea World, while Jordan slashes underneath us for a fancy left-handed reverse layup! Do you think we could get Jordan to autograph it for us?

Here’s coach with smoke coming out of his ears at his famous Game 2 press conference, the one where he said we panicked, were intimidated and let the Bulls destroy our will. And that was the non-cursing and non-screaming version for the press. Imagine what he told us.

No, it’s safe to say, this isn’t how the Jazz thought it would be.

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“It’s no reason,” said Karl Malone of Summerfield, La., after the Bulls’ 97-85 cruise Wednesday night, still refusing any excuses.

“It’s the NBA finals. You don’t get opportunities to come here. To me, it was embarrassing. I was embarrassed by the way I played and I’ll try to correct that and I’ll be the first to admit that . . .

“I think my teammates feed off and play off the things I do and when I don’t bring a lot of energy on the offensive and defensive end or be aggressive, it seems like our team doesn’t. So that’s kind of a responsibility I have to do myself.”

On the plus side, the Jazz players are still taking it like men.

They led for more than 37 minutes of Game 1. They handled the disappointing defeat graciously and charmed everyone during the two off-days with their bemused, low-key, approach. Even the Chicago Tribune’s Bernie Lincicome, known for withering attacks on Shaquille O’Neal, Pat Riley and any other debris in the Bulls’ wake, couldn’t bring himself to rip the Jazz.

“They’re such nice fellows,” said Lincicome, emerging from Tuesday’s Malone-John Stockton press conference. “We need Alonzo Mourning back.”

On the minus side, things are getting worse for the Jazz, not better.

After giving every indication they would be ready for Game 2, they were barely there. They led for no minutes and no seconds. They missed 11 of their first 15 shots and, worse, saw Jordan go back to being Michael Jordan.

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When Jordan is missing shots, as he has intermittently through this postseason, as he did through the first three quarters of Game 1, the Bulls are beatable. When Jordan is knocking them down, one after another, as he was Wednesday, you’re in trouble.

The Jazz tied a playoff record low with 11 points in the second quarter and fell behind by 22 points in the third when garbage time started and the Bulls began fooling around, trying to get Jordan his 10th assist for a triple-double.

In Jerry Sloan’s day, someone would pay for that which is what the Jazz coach told his players in blood-curdling terms.

“I never worry about where you’re going to play,” said Sloan in the polite version for the press. “I just worry about whether you’re going to compete or not, that’s the only thing I worry about in the coaching business . . .

“I don’t have any problem if you lose as long as you foul a guy once in a while, let him know you’re out there. I don’t want to see anybody get hurt, anything like that, but I do like to see guys get up and compete. We backed away from them . . .

“We probably haven’t taken their best shot. They’re such a good team defensively but still and all, I’ve always been amazed at how easy it is to intimidate people. And I thought we were intimidated, right from the beginning of the game. And if you allow yourself to be intimidated, you let someone destroy your will to want to win, you’re pretty easily affected.”

Aside from that, it was an OK trip.

The Jazz players, plain-speaking, straight-shooting (at least after games) and personable, climbed on their chartered airplane or their turnip truck for the long ride home.

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Hopefully, they’ll find their will, shooting touch, etc. before Friday or their only finals experience won’t only be miserable, but short.


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