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NBA NOTES

Jazz Is Rested, Bulls in a Spin

June 03, 1998|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SALT LAKE CITY — It was not your average Tuesday at the Delta Center Rest Home & Comedy Club:

* The Utah Jazz, having pushed even Coach Jerry Sloan's tendency for short practices (witness the 30-minute gathering last Friday), went through its last preparation for the NBA championship series, finally. When Game 1 comes tonight against the Chicago Bulls, it will have been after a break that stretches back to the afternoon of May 24 at the Great Western Forum, such an unusual amount of rest during a season that it's fair to wonder how much of the edge has been lost.

"Coach has certainly run us enough to stay in shape, but there is something different between the game and any practice," John Stockton said. "The intensity level that is brought to every play in the game, in particular the playoffs, goes up again another level for a championship. You can't duplicate that in practice, so we'll just wait and see. There is no way to tell."

There's not even any way to tell when they'll be able to tell. Tonight is a good possibility, the start of the finals rematch won by the Bulls in six games a year ago. Or maybe it isn't.

"I'm not sure you'll notice early," said Jeff Hornacek, the Jazz's other starting guard. "If the series goes six or seven games, maybe that's when the advantage will swing to us, just because we had these days off. So I think it's important for us to get off to a good start. If we somehow can get this first game, it will be a big boost for us in terms of everybody putting to rest whether the 10 days off will be a concern or not."

* The Bulls arrived in town earlier in the day and immediately installed themselves as underdogs with everything to prove, taking the custom of teams perceiving slights for motivational purposes to a laughable level.

"No one is expecting us to win," Scottie Pippen said before practice at the Delta Center, actually managing to keep a straight face in the process. "Everyone is expecting the Jazz to walk away in this series. . . . It is a different feeling. We have never been in a situation where we have sort of been written off. It is a great feeling being the underdog because you want to go out and prove everybody wrong."

Even if it takes making up the perception in the first place. He can make the argument Utah is favored--home-court advantage, wins in both regular-season meetings, coming off a conference-final sweep while the Bulls needed seven games--but "everyone is expecting the Jazz to walk away" should come with a urine sample.

Said Bull Coach Phil Jackson, more realistically: "We knew that we'd lost some sentiment in the last series. I don't know whether people grow tired of champions or they're wearied of what happened in that last series, that maybe Indiana's a fresh look. The situation seemed to spell a little bit that we were vulnerable and not as invincible as we have been in the past, which, you know, is very possible."

*

Reporter to Jazz forward Bryon Russell: "Is there a different air around here now that Michael and the Bulls have landed in town?"

Russell: "No, the air's still thin."

*

Fired Seattle SuperSonic coach George Karl thought it was all about winning. Now, he says, he knows better.

In one of his first interviews since being fired last week, Karl told the Seattle Times his personality clash with Wally Walker, team president for the past four years, made it impossible for him to stay.

"I personally don't think I'm that difficult of a guy to get along with," Karl said. "A breakdown of communication is a 50-50 proposition. It's both parties' fault.

"I'll sit here and admit that I don't know how to talk to Wally Walker. But I never refused to talk to him. They say I wasn't a team player on the communcation side. Well, I never knew what the rules were.

"I knew winning games was a big part of it. I think we've done that."

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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