The wait is over. Tonight the Jazz and Bulls square off in a rematch of last year's memorable NBA Finals. Who will win? And why? NBA beat writer Dirk Facer goes in search of answers. Join him as he plays the NBA Finals version of:
1. How will the Utah Jazz react to being idle for 10 days after sweeping the Lakers in the Western Conference finals?
Answer: It depends on who you ask.
"I don't see how that can be an edge," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "It's difficult to keep your mind and body in the kind of condition that you would like."
Pacers coach Larry Bird said whoever faces Utah will have a definite advantage in Game 1.
"Chicago has an excellent chance to go out and steal one of the first two games," Bird said. "Utah has been lying around for 10 days. I was in that situation once with eight days off. There's no way you can stay in game shape by sitting around. Chicago has a great opportunity to go out there and get one early."
Karl Malone said the key for the Jazz is preparation.
"The first game is very important for us, because we have to get our game face on from the first minute. It's easy for a team to surprise you if you're not ready," he said. "After that, though, I think the time off will really help us."
2. Does it matter that the Jazz won both games with the Bulls during the regular season?
Answer: It might.
"(Utah has) proven they can beat us in our building and they've proven they can beat us here," Michael Jordan said in February. "We lost our serve and we've certainly lost our set. Hopefully, we won't think about that if we have to face this team again in the playoffs."
3. After being pushed to the limit by the Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals are the two-time defending NBA champion Bulls vunerable?
Answer: Yes and no.
"You always feel vulnerable. But it doesn't mean you can't go out and play the game with intensity and the idea of being successful," says Michael Jordan. "I never think that we felt invulnerable. I felt we just had a confidence about being successful. I don't think that's been totally eliminated. I still think we're very confident about what we can achieve."
4. Utah and Chicago each finished with a league-best 62 wins. Is there any connection between regular season and postseason success?
All but one of the past 20 NBA champions finished the regular season with one of the league's top three records. The lone exception? The 1994-95 Houston Rockets, who were tied for 10th in the league with a 47-35 record.
5. How often have the same two teams met in consecutive NBA Finals?
Though it hasn't happened since the Lakers and Pistons met in both the 1988 and 1989 NBA finals. Each prevailed once, which follows a historical pattern concerning such situations. Five times repeat finals have seen the title change hands. The Jazz, no doubt, hope to make it six.
6. What's the deal with the 2-3-2 format?
Citing a reduction in cross-country travel, it's been 15 years since the NBA used the old 2-2-1-1-1 format for the league championship series. The current system should make the Jazz happy. Since 1985, only three teams with the middle games at home (as Chicago has this year) have won the NBA title. Interestly, no home team has swept the three middle games in 13 years and Chicago is the lone visitor to win all three on the road. That was 1991 when the Bulls stampeded past the Lakers for their first crown.
7. How often do division champions go on to win the NBA title?
Answer: 95 percent of the time over the past 20 years.
And in 1998, the odds are 100 percent. Chicago is the reigning Central Division champion and Utah is king of the Midwest. The 1994-95 Rockets are the only team to buck the trend over the past two decades. Houston, which finished third in the Midwest that season (15 games behind first-place San Antonio), went 15-7 in the playoffs to win its second straight league title.
8. Chicago is going for an NBA championship three-peat. How rare is such air?
Answer: Not very.
Since 1987, NBA titles have been awarded in pairs or threes. The Lakers prevailed in 1987 and 1988; Detroit followed with championships in 1989 and 1990; Chicago three-peated from 1991-93; Houston prevailed in 1994 and 1995; before the Bulls' current run. Prior to L.A.'s run, no NBA team had repeated as league champion since the Boston Celtics did in 1969.
Year Winner Finals MVP
1997 Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan
1996 Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan
1995 Houston Rockets Hakeem Olajuwon
1994 Houston Rockets Hakeem Olajuwon
1993 Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan
1992 Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan
1991 Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan
1990 Detroit Pistons Isiah Thomas
1989 Detroit Pistons Joe Dumars
1988 L.A. Lakers James Worthy
1987 L.A. Lakers Magic Johnson
9. How many different referees work the NBA Finals?
Only 32 officials are selected to referee the playoffs. They're chosen based on performance during the regular season. The pool of officials is decreased after each postseason round until the field is reduced to 11 for the NBA Finals.
10. Is the correlation between regular season and playoff success in the NBA any greater than that in professional football (NFL), baseball (MLB) or hockey (NHL)?
A Sport Magazine study of champioinships in the 1980s and '90s revealed that the NBA leads the way in five different categories of regular season to playoff success.
How often team with one of two best records wins title:
NBA 86 percent
NFL 78 percent
NHL 44 percent
MLB 41 percent
How often team with one of three best records wins title:
NBA 94 percent
NFL 86 percent
MLB 59 percent
NHL 50 percent
How often a top seed reaches the finals:
NBA 94 percent
MLB 76 percent
NFL 72 percent
NHL 56 percent
How often top two seeds reach finals:
NBA 44 percent
NFL 33 percent
MLB 29 percent
NHL 22 percent
How often team with best overall record wins title:
NBA 56 percent
NFL 50 percent
NHL 33 percent
MLB 18 percent
11. Should the Jazz open the series with two wins, is it over?
Only two teams (Boston in 1969 and Portland in 1977) have ever come back from 2-0 deficits to win the NBA Finals. Both lost the first two games on the road before bouncing back. No team, however, has ever rallied from 3-0 or even 3-1 disadvantages in the championship series. In fact, only six squads have prevailed when down 3-2. The latest to do so was the 1994 Houston Rockets.
12. Is Utah's bench, which has outscored opponents 439-316 in postseason play, stronger than it was in last year's finals?
Answer: Yes, sort of.
"I'm not sure they're stronger. I think just now at this point of the season they've been playing better," says Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "Last year our bench played well. I don't think we would have succeeded last year as much as we did if it hadn't been for our bench, and we're in the same boat this year. We've said all along that our bench is crucial to us."
13. How important is home-court advantage in the NBA Finals?
Answer: Very important.
The team with home-court advantage, such as Utah has this year, is 37-14 (.726 winning percentage) in the NBA Finals. Jazz fans can take additional comfort in knowing that 11 of the past 13 champions had home-court advantage. The 1993 Chicago Bulls (who defeated Phoenix) and the 1995 Rockets (Orlando) are the only teams to break through during that span.
14. What's the typical length of the NBA championship series?
Answer: Six games.
Chicago's 4-2 triumph over Utah in 1997 was the most common outcome of the NBA Finals. Nineteen times the series have gone six games. On 15 ocassions, the finals have gone seven games, while five-game sets haave occurred 11 times. Sweeps (4-0) are the rarest scenario. Just six teams have failed to win a game in an NBA Finals series.
15. Championship celebrations: Are more titles won at home or on the road?
Answer: There's no place like home.
Of the 51 previous NBA Finals, 30 have ended with the home team winning the trophy. Home-court celebrations, however, have been less common in recent years. Just five of the past nine winners have done so at home - Chicago (1992, 1996, 1997) and Houston (1994, 1995). The Bulls won at Los Angeles in 1991 and two years later in Phoenix. Detroit won both of its crowns on the road. The Pistons defeated the Lakers in 1989 and Portland in 1990.
16. Do road teams win very often in the NBA Finals?
Answer: Almost half the time since 1990.
Visiting teams have won 22 of 45 NBA Finals games this decade. The .489 winning percentage didn't hold up in 1997, though. Chicago's Game 5 win in the Delta Center was the lone deviation a year ago when home teams prevailed in the other five games.
17. Is it true that the team with the NBA scoring champion on its roster rarely wins the league championship?
Answer: Yes, unless it's Michael Jordan.
The Bulls guard, who recently added an NBA-record 10th scoring title to his list of accomplishments (28.7 ppg), is the main exception to the rule.
He has led the league in scoring all five times Chicago has won the NBA crown. Prior to Jordan, 20 years had passed since a top scorer led his team to the title. That was Milwaukee's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1971.
18. How about rebounding? Bulls forward Dennis Rodman won the title this season.
Answer: It depends.
Rebounding leaders have had more success obtaining rings than scorers, but there's no direct correlation between the two. Rodman, who pulled down 15 boards per game this season, can join former Celtics great Bill Russell as the only players to get both three times. Russell won the rebounding title and NBA championship in 1958-59, 1963-64 and 1964-65. Wilt Chamberlain pulled off the feat twice, while Moses Malone and George Mikan each did it once.
Rebounding to a title
Year Rebounding Champ NBA Champ?
1997 Dennis Rodman, Bulls Yes
1996 Dennis Rodman, Bulls Yes
1995 Dennis Rodman, Spurs No
1994 Dennis Rodman, Spurs No
1993 Dennis Rodman, Pistons No
1992 Dennis Rodman, Pistons No
1991 David Robinson, Spurs No
1990 Hakeem Olajuwon, Rockets No
1989 Hakeem Olajuwon, Rockets No
1988 Michael Cage, Clippers No
19. Does the better team always win in a best-of-seven playoff series?
Answer: Michael Jordan thinks so.
"You can luck out sometimes and beat a team once, or even twice, but you aren't going to beat a team four times like you have to in the playoffs unless you are a better team," Jordan said. "You can't advance in the playoffs on luck."
20. Has the NBA Finals become an international event?
The championship series will be broadcast to 175 different countries, from Algeria to Zimbabwe. Media credentials have been issued to reporters from around the world.