The confidence is back.

Do you recall, just a few days ago, when Chicago Bulls players were referring to themselves as underdogs in the NBA Finals?Do you recall, just a few days ago, when the topic of conversation centered on the possibility that His Airness might go out a loser?

You're not hearing that talk as much anymore. Not now. Not here in the Town that Michael Built (formerly known as the Windy City).

"If we didn't get the win we did last (Friday) night, we'd be real worried," said Michelle Tomaszewski, who knows the Bulls as well as she knows her own family, if not better. "I'm very confident we'll win at least two here. Utah is a great shooting team, but if our defense can prevail, we'll win."

Many Bulls fans who joined Tomaszewski at Wrigley Field for Saturday's Cubs-White Sox game expressed similar, renewed optimism.

"I think they'll go back to Utah, but I think they'll win in six," said Bill Lawlor of Bloomingdale.

"When I looked in Jordan's eyes (on TV), I saw calm, cool, `We're coming home. We're done,' " Beth Shaw of suburban Chicago said of Friday's 93-88 Bulls win. "The Bulls' team is definitely not what it used to be, but it's very hard to beat Utah on the road. The real challenge now is not to give up one on our home floor."

If the Bulls win all three here - Sunday, Wednesday and Friday - the series would end. But their fans, by and large, don't expect that. They're prepared for a fight to the finish.

Respect for the Jazz is apparent in this city, much more so than a year ago. And not all Chicagoans inteviewed on the eve of Game Three are as reassured as others.

"There's still a lot of panic. It's not totally gone," said Tim Held, who drove down from northwest Indiana. "The Pacers took 'em real deep."

One thing is for sure, Tom Cawthorne said, Jordan has not lost a step. The NBA's greatest player is still at the top of his game.

Karl Malone, however, has not been so far. And that's a factor many Bulls fans aren't figuring in, said Bob Summa of Brooklyn, Conn. Summa, who visits Chicago frequently on business, would like Utah to win the series - primarily, he said, because of Malone.

"I don't think the Bulls beat the Jazz last (Friday) night. I think the Jazz lost the game," Summa said as the Cubs wrapped up a 7-6 win over their cross-town rivals.

"If Malone can play as bad as he's played so far and they can still win one and be right there at the end of the second game, then I think they're a better team. But the pressure's on them now."

Tomaszewski, one of a surprisingly small number of the 38,232 Wrigley fans wearing Bulls clothing, said she could live with a Finals loss this year. The five titles in the 1990s should be more than enough to satisfy Bulls fans for a long time, she said.

Long-suffering Cubs fans? Well, they're a different animal. With the club 12 games above .500 for the first time in nine years, thousands of Cubs fans remained in the bleachers a full half-hour after the game, and the city's streets likely were safer for it. They were nearly as vocal in their postgame celebration as they were in cheering the Cubbies to victory.

If they show up at the United Center on Sunday, the Jazz could be in trouble.