Michael Jordan pours in 41 points as the Bulls take a 2-0 advantage over the Pacers in the East Finals, D4.Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson have won five NBA titles in the past seven years while facing five different Western Conference opponents in the Finals.

But if the Chicago Bulls are to win their sixth world championship of the 1990s, it looks like they'll finally have to beat a team with some recent Finals experience. While Jerry Sloan and his troops don't want to be caught looking ahead, it appears now that Jazz-Bulls II - with Utah having the homecourt advantage this time - will become reality.Both the Jazz and the Bulls have 2-0 leads in their respective conference finals. While that doesn't ensure victory, it comes pretty close. Only seven times in league history has a team rebounded from a two-game deficit to win a best-of-seven series. The Bulls have never lost when taking a 2-0 lead. The Jazz are 8-1 in the playoffs when going up 2-0, and the only time they lost was to Golden State in 1987 when they lost three in a row in a best-of-five first-round series.

Both the Lakers and the Jazz are saying the series is a long way from being over - which is probably true. The Jazz have never swept a best-of-seven series and need two more wins to eliminate the Lakers. Game 3 is set for Friday night in the Forum, with the fourth game on Sunday afternoon.

"They're not going to give up," said John Stockton. "They're a terrific team. They just won four straight against a great team up in Seattle, so we can't take anything for granted."

"Utah did what they were supposed to do," said Laker teen Kobe Bryant. "They defended their home court. Now it is time for us to go back to L.A. and do the same thing."

The series may still go six or seven games, and the Lakers may take advantage of playing in the Forum the next two games. Still, the fact remains that the Jazz have two more games, if necessary, in the Delta Center - including Game 7. Visiting teams rarely win in seventh games, so for the Lakers to get back to the Finals for the first time since 1991, chances are they'll have to win four straight, putting Utah out in six.

But the Jazz haven't lost two in a row this season since November - and that was when Stockton was still recovering from knee surgery.

One of the all-time great NBA franchises, the Lakers are 1-12 when falling in a 0-2 hole. The only time they came back from such a deficit was back in 1969 - when Elden Campbell and Corie Blount were less than a year old and the rest of the current team was yet to be born. As great as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson were, they never led comebacks in series when their Laker teams lost the first two.

The Jazz, who took Tuesday off and returned to practice Wednesday morning, don't want to hear about it. They're trying not to think about the Bulls. They don't want to start talking about their favorite deep-dish pizza parlors in Chicago just yet. They still have unfinished business with the Lakers.

"It's going to be a long series, we realize that," said Karl Malone after the Game 2 victory. "It's going to be a tough series. We realize that, too. The most important thing to do is to play the games. Everybody has done enough talking about this series. We need to just go out and play the games. . . . All the sideshows are going on and that's kind of put a damper on it."

While Malone didn't come right out and talk specifics, the sideshows include Laker coach Del Harris' criticisms about his kicking, Shaquille O'Neal's threats of elbows and Nick Van Exel's comment where he said perhaps the Lakers should take "a bat to the game" to "try to kill one of them" in order to slow down Stockton and/or Malone.

While the general feeling in the Jazz locker room on Monday was that they'd rather continue to play the games with just one day in between, the three days rest will likely be more beneficial to the Jazz than to the Lakers. Utah has a much older team, and the days between games should give them time to recover from the bumps and bruises suffered thus far.


Additional Information

The series

The West

Conference finals

Game 1 Jazz 112

Lakers 77

Karl Malone leads Jazz with 29 points

Game 2 Jazz 99

Lakers 95

John Stockton breaks out with 22 points

Game 3 UTAH at

May 22 Los Angeles

TV TIME: TNT, KJZZ, 8:00 p.m.

Game 4 UTAH at

May 24 Los Angeles

TV TIME: NBC, 1:30 p.m.

If necessary

Game 5 Los Angeles

May 26 at UTAH

TV TIME: NBC, 7:00 p.m.

If necessary

Game 6 UTAH at

May 29 Los Angeles

TV TIME: To be announced

If necessary

Game 7 Los Angeles

May 31 at UTAH

TV TIME: To be announced