BOSTON — Michael Jordan hung in the conversation Tuesday as he does in the air during games after the Boston Celtics ended practice for Thursday's opening game of their National Basketball Assn. playoff series against the Chicago Bulls.
"Everybody knows it's going to be a tough assignment, not only for the person guarding him but for the whole team," center Robert Parish said of defensing Jordan, the regular season scoring champion with a 37.1-point average.
"What you try to do is contain him. There's no way we're going to stop him. So we just try to keep him down to a safe number," he said.
When pressed, Parish said he felt 28 was a safe number, "and that's too many."
Coach K.C. Jones said he would settle for as little production from Jordan as possible, beginning with the first game in the best-of-five series at Boston Garden.
"If we let him have his 30, then he'll get 60," Jones said. "What we're going to do is make him work hard to get the 30. Then we'll see what happens."
After scoring 49 points in the first game, Jordan scored a playoff record 63 points in a second-game, double-overtime loss to the Celtics in last year's opening round. Boston went on to sweep the Bulls in three games.
Jones said quickness helps make Jordan nearly unstoppable.
"He's got lightning quickness, a great outside shot and he can hang in the air and shoot the ball left-handed or right-handed," Jones said. "If he didn't have as good an outside shot, then it would be a little less difficult."
Danny Ainge, who will see some defensive duty against Jordan, also said containing Jordan would be the right approach.
"We have to be ready to help and limit his easy shots," Ainge said. "He's going to get his points. But we have to make him work as hard as possible to get them."
The Celtics have won three consecutive games against the Bulls, including all six this season. They enter Thursday's game on a 29-game winning streak at home, including games at Boston Garden and the Hartford Civic Center. They have won 75 of 76 at the Garden.
Parish said while stopping Jordan was one goal, establishing a strong inside game would also help.
"They don't have a shot blocker, so hopefully we will have a strong inside game and wear them down," he said.
Staying healthy will be another task for the Celtics as they defend their NBA title.
At various times, each member of the starting five missed games due to injury. And backup center Bill Walton is playing despite missing much of the season with an ankle injury.
But team physician, Dr. Thomas Silva, doesn't foresee any problems.
"The players have their share of aches and pains, but they are very positive. They appear to be peaking at the right time," he said.