Karl Malone and John Stockton sat together at Thursday's press conference, taking turns answering questions and, sort of like anchors on the 10 o'clock news, almost finishing each other's sentences at times.
Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen met the media separately and were asked if there was a problem between the two of them. The entire world - that's really not hyperbole in this case - was privy to what looked like Jordan screaming in disgust at Pippen late in Utah's Game 1 victory in the NBA Finals.Jordan and Pippen claim there is no personal feud. "I don't have a reason to scream at Scottie Pippen. He and I are on the same wavelength," said Jordan. But the fact that the topic has been brought up at all may be telling.
The Utah Jazz appear to be one harmonious unit entering tonight's Game 2. The Bulls, on the other hand, look like a dynasty on the verge of imploding. Sure, Chicago is only down one game, but even if they come back to beat the Jazz in the Finals, it's common knowledge that this is the final running of the Bulls with coach Phil Jackson, Jordan and Pippen leading the way. In other words, the team of the '90s is destined to fall apart at the end of the Finals - if not sooner.
If Chicago is going to win a sixth championship in eight years, Jordan and Pippen will need more help. The two superstars combined for 54 of the Bulls' 85 points in the series opener. They also accounted for 48 of the team's 82 shots from the field.
"That is not appropriate," Jackson said, referring to the fact that the other nine players who saw action for the Bulls on Wednesday combined to take just 34 shots.
Jordan admits his teammates need to become more involved, but there is more to it than just he and Pippen sharing the ball. The other guys on the team have to work to get open for opportunities, he said.
"You have to think aggressively as an offensive team, especially our key individuals - Toni (Kukoc), Steve (Kerr), Scott Burrell, Luc (Longley)," said Jordan. "We have to work them within the framework of our offense and they have to have an aggressive attitude to do that."
Utah's bench outscored its Finals counterpart 22-8 in the three-point overtime win. While Stockton and Malone, the Jazz's resident superstars, were the top two scorers in the opener, it was clear again on Wednesday that Utah isn't a two-man team. The same can't be said of the Bulls, however.
"I think that description has plagued this team for a little while, that it's a two-man team," Stockton said. "I don't think that's fair. I don't think our success with the Utah Jazz has been because of two guys. Hopefully, we've contributed a lot, but two guys can't do it. One guy can't do it. Three guys can't do it. The success of our team has been everybody doing it."
It was fortunate for Malone, of course, that others were coming through on Wednesday. He struggled with his shot for most of the night and figures to be better than 9-for-25 from the field in Game 2.
"I think those shots were there for me the whole night," Malone said. "They were in our offense. I didn't try to do anything that wasn't in our offense that I hadn't done all year. . . . I'm not going to stop shooting if that is the question."
The Jazz spoke of making some adjustments, but as per Jazz policy, were keeping them more top secret than the formula to McDonald's "special sauce."
The Bulls, on the other hand, have seen a possible weakness in the Jazz armor - namely Jeff Hor-na-cek - and they weren't shy about telling the world that they planned to exploit it.
While the Jazz's starting shooting guard claims that he's doing fine, it's common knowledge that his left Achilles is sore and he has chronic knee problems. It's for that reason, Jackson contends, that Jazz backup point guard Howard Eisley spent time on the court with Stockton in both the second and fourth quarters.
"I just think they had to make some kind of bandage," Jackson said of Utah's two point guard lineup. "It looks to me like Jeff Hornacek's really struggling and somehow or another they've got to patch that together. . . . We're going to try to make them pay a little bit for (their problem at shooting guard) some time or other in this next game."
Jordan also said that the Bulls need to "find out a way we can attack the situation" referring to Hornacek's injury.
Of course, the Jazz's line is to just not talk about injuries - perhaps in hopes that they'll go away.
"One thing about Jeff Hornacek - and that's the makeup of this team - is that there is no excuse when we go play about injuries and things like that," Malone said. "Jeff is going to give us hard work when he's out there. . . . On Jeff's physical condition, he's like anybody else. When he suits up, he's ready to play and that's the motto of this team. When we put a uniform on, we are ready with no ex-cuses."
Eisley, meanwhile, said the reason he played with Stockton at times was just to mix things up and to keep the Bulls guessing. "I think it's a change of pace so the other team may not know what to really expect - who's going to handle the ball. It's a switch-up to give the defense a different look and try to catch them off-guard," he said.
The Bulls find themselves trailing 1-0 for just the second time in the Finals. The last time was in 1991 - when they went on to win four straight to beat the Lakers in five games. So, justifiably, there is still plenty of confidence in Jordan and his crew.
"I believe even if we lose (Game 2), which I'm not thinking that way, we still have a great opportunity to go home and win in our building," Jordan said.
Added Pippen, "Our confidence is very high. We sent this team into overtime. We just need to play much better in the next game."