The Chicago Bulls struggled to finish their first two playoff games. They've been heavy-legged and sometimes weary. Vulnerable, for sure.
Still, the two-time defending champs won twice against the New Jersey Nets and can complete a sweep Wednesday."It's always good to get it over with quick," Michael Jordan said after Sunday's 96-91 victory. "You don't want to give them hope. They are a young team, and you never know what they can do with hope."
What the Nets have done in the first two games is scare the Bulls with their athleticism, tempo and fourth-quarter play, even though their top two scorers have been subpar physically.
"We know we can play with these guys," New Jersey's Jayson Williams said. "We feel good about our chances at home. We don't feel good about losing."
Jordan says it's OK if some think the Bulls' slip is evident.
"I'm pretty sure that's what people have been writing," he said. "And some teams feel that way. I'm not going to say that's not a plus in our corner.
"But until they actually come in and do it, it's all conversation."
The Bulls struggled to a three-point overtime victory in the series opener, blowing a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead. On Sunday, they had a 21-point lead in the second half, and it nearly evaporated.
"Their frenetic energy changes the tempo of the game. There are periods of time in the game where they can have four or five minutes and their energy overwhelms a team," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said.
"We lost the focus of our game in the third quarter. We developed a pace they like to play at."
Sherman Douglas hit a 3-pointer to make it 94-91, but Scottie Pip-pen then made two free throws with 14 seconds left as the Bulls, despite 7-of-13 free-throw shooting in the fourth, hung on.
Jordan led the Bulls with 32 points. Chicago shot 39 free throws but missed 13 of them.
With New Jersey's top scorers,Keith Van Horn and Sam Cassell, still limited - Van Horn weak from a stomach virus and Cassell with a groin injury - Sherman Douglas, Kerry Kittles and Williams attacked with a fervor. Kittles scored 23, Douglas had 20 with 12 assists, and Williams also had 10 points.