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Jordan Finishes Off the Nets; Rockets Put Jazz on the Ropes

From Associated Press

Bring on the next victim. Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls are back in championship form.

Jordan and the Bulls made sure the New Jersey Nets ended their first playoff appearance in four years with nothing more than a little respect by posting yet another first-round sweep.

Jordan made 15 of his first 18 shots and scored 38 points Wednesday night as the Bulls ended the best-of-five series with a 116-101 victory over the upstart but injured Nets at East Rutherford, N.J.

“When I am in that kind of rhythm it really doesn’t matter. And I felt that early on in the game,” Jordan said. “When I took my first ‘three’, I knew I was on.”

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The first-round sweep was the third consecutive for the two-time defending NBA champions and it gave them a 24-1 record in the opening round since 1991.

“We knew their backs were to the wall and we just took it to them,” Jordan said. “It’s important to get it over with quick. It gives us a chance to get ready.”

The Bulls will play either Charlotte or Atlanta in the second round. The Hornets lead the series, 2-1, with Game 4 at Atlanta on Friday night.

“We ain’t going nowhere, no time soon,” Bull guard Ron Harper said. “Everybody is saying how old we are, and that we ain’t going nowhere. We’re here until June. That’s our goal. To be here till June, not to leave early.”

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Scott Burrell supported Jordan by making nine of 11 shots from the field and scoring 23 points, including 11 in the third quarter when Chicago opened a 93-76 lead. Dennis Rodman added 17 rebounds as Chicago outrebounded New Jersey, 35-21, limiting New Jersey to 10 boards in the first 36 minutes.

Rodman also put an exclamation point on the win, making a three-point basket on a pass from Jordan in the waning seconds. He then raised his arms over his head, drawing catcalls from the sellout crowd.

“We competed, we played hard. We can walk away from this with our heads high,” Net forward Chris Gatling said. “We lost to the better team.”

Houston 89, Utah 85--Thanks to their three biggest stars, the Rockets are on the verge of pulling off one of the biggest upsets in NBA playoff history.

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Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley led the Rockets over the Jazz at Houston, giving Houston a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five opening-round series.

The Rockets need one more victory to become only the second No. 8-seeded team to beat a No. 1. No. 8 Denver upset top-seeded Seattle in 1994.

Olajuwon had 28 points and 12 rebounds, Drexler finished with 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists, and Barkley contributed eight points, six rebounds and a victory-clinching steal in the closing seconds despite playing with a hernia.

Game 4 will be Friday in Houston. Game 5, if necessary, will be in Utah on Sunday.

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The Jazz trailed the entire game until John Stockton made two free throws with 44.3 seconds left to give Utah an 85-84 lead. But the Rockets then made five free throws, including one by Matt Maloney with 7.6 seconds left to take an 89-85 lead.

Barkley then clinched it by stealing Byron Russell’s inbounds pass, which was intended for Karl Malone.

Malone led the Jazz with 19 points and 14 rebounds. Russell also scored 19 points, while Stockton finished with 15 points and six assists.

The Rockets led, 47-43, at halftime and built a 13-point lead with 6:19 left in the third quarter following a basket by Matt Bullard. But the Jazz outscored the Rockets, 18-9, over the rest of the period to pull within four points.

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San Antonio 99, Phoenix 80--Avery Johnson continued his sizzling playoff run with a career-high 30 points, and Chuck Person’s three-point shooting helped ignite a decisive second-half run at San Antonio to lift the Spurs into the second round.

David Robinson had 15 points and 21 rebounds for the Spurs, who won the best-of-five series, 3-1.

The game was tied, 50-50, before Johnson and Person led a 29-6 run that put the Spurs up, 79-56, with 6:53 left.

Johnson, who averaged nearly 20 points in the series after scoring only 10 per game in the regular season, scored nine during the spurt.

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Person, who averaged only 6.7 points during the regular season, made three three-pointers during the run and finished with 18 points. Overall, he was six of eight from three-point range.

The Spurs led by only seven points entering the fourth quarter, but they opened the final period with a 17-1 run to break the game open.

NBA Notes

Patrick Ewing will not, repeat, will not be playing for the New York Knicks as they face elimination by the Miami Heat.

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Not in Game 4 and not in Game 5, according to the Knicks.

“Again, I don’t know how much I can say this: He’s not playing in this series. I’m not sure why no one will accept that answer,” Coach Jeff Van Gundy said Wednesday after the Knicks went through what might have been their final practice of the season before tonight’s Game 4.

Ewing, who severely fractured his right wrist in late December, has been practicing with the team but has not been given clearance to play by the team’s medical staff.


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