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SPORTS EXTRA / SPECIAL PULLOUT SECTION: NBA PLAYOFFS

After Bulls' Run, Who's Next?

Postseason: With parity in the East and little separation of top five contenders in West, it is anybody's ballgame as chase for a title begins.

May 07, 1999|MARK HEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Well, that was . . . uh . . . necessary.

After a half-season off and a bone-wearying compacted schedule, we return to the postseason to find Michael Jordan gone and his gang dispersed: Scottie Pippen to the Houston Rockets, Luc Longley to the Phoenix Suns. Dennis Rodman went to the Lakers, but although they made the playoffs, he didn't.

It's a new, egalitarian day, with no dominating teams.

Anyone can win in the East, where six victories separated No. 1 Miami and No. 8 New York.

The West had an elite, with 12 wins separating Nos. 1 and 8, not that it means the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs are heavy favorites over the No. 2 Portland Trail Blazers or No. 3 Utah Jazz--or even the No. 4 Lakers and No. 5 Rockets.

If the Bulls seemed vulnerable in their last two title runs, they could always dig deeper than anyone else. Jordan always answered the challenge, no matter if he was sick or Pippen was hurt, or both.

We're going back to the real world now. For all their greatness, everyone else is human.

Karl Malone doesn't always deliver, he has bad games and misses key free throws; John Stockton plays only 28 minutes these days; Jeff Hornacek runs like Chester in "Gunsmoke"; Tim Duncan is trying to learn not to be so nice; David Robinson is trying to fit in alongside Duncan; opponents dare Avery Johnson to shoot; Hakeem Olajuwon is old; so is Charles Barkley; Pippen is trying to figure out where he can get 15 shots; Patrick Ewing is ancient; Latrell Sprewell is . . . uh . . . irrepressible; Reggie Miller is still skinny; Rik Smits' feet still hurt; Allen Iverson is wild; Penny Hardaway is Penny Hardaway; everyone knows Alonzo Mourning goes to his right; and Shaquille O'Neal just found out he's supposed to play defense.

In the post-Bulls world, almost everyone has a real chance, which should be fun and could be great.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

NBA Champions of the 1990s

Only three teams have taken home the NBA championship trophy in the 1990s (Detroit also won in 1989):

Year: Champion

1998: Chicago Bulls

1997: Chicago Bulls

1996: Chicago Bulls

1995: Houston Rockets

1994: Houston Rockets

1993: Chicago Bulls

1992: Chicago Bulls

1991: Chicago Bulls

1990: Detroit Pistons

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