Though it took a little longer than expected, the Bulls finally hurdled over the speed-bump Pacers and into the highly anticipated NBA Finals.
Nobody expected Indiana's little bump to derail the Chicago Dynasty Express, but now the real talk begins. Do the Jazz have enough momentum in their locomotive to derail a Bulls train bound for a sixth NBA championship?Sure it does; that's why Utah has homecourt advantage. But is it enough to overcome the Bulls' mental superiority?
"Knowing Utah as the veteran team they are, they're going to attack us," said Michael Jordan. "Sure, physically we'll be a little tired, but our hearts aren't tired, and that's more important than the physical."
Jordan made it very clear that "nobody's taken anything from us thus far."
While Chicago has the mental edge, no one is denying that Utah has the more tangible edge with the homecourt advantage. But there's another factor at work - the huge layoff. It's unprecedented for a team to get 10 days off during the playoffs.
"Chicago has an excellent chance to go out there and steal a game because they've just been sitting around," said Pacers coach Larry Bird. "I was in that situation once for eight days, and there's no way you can stay in game shape just sitting around."
There are two forces at work, and like an episode of Jerry Springer, nobody knows what's coming next. Will Chicago's tired legs after a seven-game series cause them to struggle in the Finals? Or has Utah's veteran joints become rusty during the layoff?
"We'll see about that," said Bulls coach Phil Jackson. "We're very curious how we're going to recover."
As the Eastern Conference finals proved, homecourt advantage is crucial. That was actually quite evident during last year's NBA Finals as well. Scottie Pippen acknowledges the fact that the Pacers may have won the series with homecourt advantage.
Utah's proved the past couple of years that the Delta Center can be a very uninviting place for the guests. Even though Chicago won a game in Salt Lake City last year, no one in the Chicago camp is denying that this year's Utah team is definitely more seasoned.
"I think we're the underdog right now, the way Utah is resting," said Jud Buechler. "It's a different type of feeling from the last two years. This will be a very difficult series. I thought Indiana was tough, but Utah will be even tougher. They're waiting, they're hungry and they feel the pain from when we beat them last year."
Pippen says he believes the Bulls can win on anybody's court, but he realizes Chicago's best chance is the opener. If the Bulls do that, and then come home and hold court, as they did during last year's series against the Jazz, they'll have their sixth ring in five games. Easier said than done.
"We go into this series not having homecourt, but hopefully the time Utah's had off can work in a negative way for them," Pippen said.
Jackson decided to give his players a day off Monday for obvious fatigue reasons. Pippen admitted after Game 6 that he was exerting himself so much on defense, his legs were dragging at the end of the game. Jackson is well aware that an ambush of even more screens await the Bulls in Salt Lake City.
While Jackson probably would've prefered the Bulls didn't expend all their energy against the Pacers, he realizes there may be more pluses than just causing the rust to grow on Utah.
He likens the Pacers to the Jazz in that they're both very patient, play great defense and have a deep bench.
"I think this is a good preparatory series for us as far as the matchups and type of energy the bench gives them," Jackson said. "They have much more poise and moxie than a lot of teams in the league because they're veterans."
"We're fighting an uphill battle because we don't have homecourt advantage," said Jordan. "Every game means a lot and we need our energy to be ready for the barrage from the crowd and the energy of Utah."