I GUESS I DON'T really know what I expected the Utah Jazz players to say. They're still professional athletes, chasing a dream that isn't dead until it's officially dead.

So in their minds, despite Wednesday night's 86-82 loss, despite trailing three games to one to the Chicago Bulls, despite having to play an elimination game Friday night in the United Center, the NBA Finals aren't over.The Jazz have a pulse, if not much hope. And when the guillotine is in free fall, you don't care that the only chance you have is a fleeting miracle.

You keep grasping for it with all your might until you know it's out of reach.

John Smallwood

Philadelphia Daily News

IF YOU EVER could predict a team's performance by its pregame appearance, it was Wednesday night at the United Center.

Before Game 4 - the turning-point game of this NBA Finals - the Jazz stood in a hallway awaiting their cue to trot onto the floor. They didn't appear to be a team awaiting their execution. They looked more like they had already lost.

Most of them leaned against the walls. None looked nervous; none looked to have any emotion other than, "Let's go through the motions and get this over with." No backslapping. No exhorting. No sounds at all, other than halfhearted grunts when they broke their huddle.

Incredibly, that's how the Jazz "attacked" the most important game in the Hall of Fame careers of Karl Malone and John Stockton. As they did after the first quarter of Sunday night's Game 3, the Jazz came out flat and flat-footed. They couldn't atone for their Game 3 embarrassment by winning a purple heart because the guys in purple didn't appear to have one.

Skip Bayless

Chicago Tribune

ON WEDNESDAY night, Dennis Rodman was Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen was Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan was Michael Jordan.

And because of that, the Utah Jazz now finds itself one loss from becoming the Chicago Bulls' sixth championship series victim in eight seasons.

Until the Bulls are dismantled - whether it's this summer or maybe after a couple of more titles - this is the NBA's version of The Beat Goes On.

Frank Burlison

Orange County Register

FRESH OFF inflicting the most devastating defeat in NBA Finals history, the Chicago Bulls produced an outcome even more damaging to the Utah Jazz.

The disparity on the scoreboard wasn't as severe, but Chicago's 86-82 triumph in Game 4 of the NBA Finals at the United Center could be remembered as the result that snuffed out Utah's spirit.

By following up Sunday's 42-point laugher with a win in Wednesday night's nailbiter, the Bulls seized a 3-1 series lead that pushes Utah to the brink of elimination. Chicago has a chance to clinch its sixth championship of the decade at home Friday night, thanks to four clutch free throws from the man who skipped Monday's practice to participate in a wrestling match.

Marc Stein

The Dallas Morning News

DENNIS RODMAN vindicated nothing by being the hero of Game 4 for the Bulls. His method is his and welcome to it but do not try this at home.

"There is no understanding Dennis," said Michael Jordan. "I cannot figure the guy out. I won't start. One day he's wrestling, the next day he's defending. Maybe tomorrow he's wrestling again. Maybe he'll miss practice."

And maybe he'll miss free throws in the fourth quarter, but he didn't in the Bulls' 86-82 coffin closer against the Jazz. All that's left is to nail it shut.

Bernie Lincicome

Chicago Tribune

WHO WOULD'VE THUNK it? Michael Jordan kept clanging late free throws. Scottie Pippen could only make one of two. But four times Dennis Rodman, Dennis HEAD CASE Rodman, went to the line in the last three minutes of a nailbiter.

Four times he calmly sinks it. The first one was pure luck, the kind of bounce he sometimes gets at the crap table in Vegas. The other three were butter, the final two coming in the final minute of this 86-82 Chicago win.

"What the hell," Rodman said. "It still comes down to shooting the ball. I think it's justified after all that's gone on the last few days."

From Hulk Hogan's tag-team partner to hero.

Michael Mayo

Sun-Sentinal

THERE IS BLOOD in the water off Lake Shore Drive, and the champions can smell it. The Utah Jazz appear mortally wounded, and the Chicago Bulls are on the brink of winning their sixth NBA title this decade and establishing themselves as the worthy sons of Bill Russell.

There was no blowout last night. The Jazz regained their dignity but could not break the defense or the will of the Bulls. Champions have great hearts, none bigger than that of Michael Jordan.

Dan Shaugnessy

Boston Globe

THIS IS WHY Dennis Rodman is always forgiven.

Whatever he does between performing his duties during Chicago Bulls games is always proven irrelevant by tip-off. He can blow off practice, fling chairs at wrestlers in strange cities, gamble and carouse the night away and bring the wrath of the world - including his own teammates - down on his head. But on nights like last night at the United Center, when he put his foot in the throat of the Utah Jazz and never let up, he earns everyone's embrace.

The Worm once again made the concepts of discipline and team rules obsolete, coming back two days after his well-publicized pro wrestling trip and putting Karl Malone in a headlock.

David Steele

San Franciso Chronicle

IF HE IS NOT the elephant frightened by the mouse, Karl Malone is now the mountain moved by the worm. Dennis Rodman is on his hip and in his head. It is making for a sorry scene, Rodman cavorting with cartoon characters, whacking one with a chair, taking a giant anvil to Malone's legacy.

Two power forwards, one cold truth. Through four games, Rodman has done far more for his team than Malone has done for his.

"Karl can do whatever he wants against Luc (Longley)," Rodman said last night. "But I have heart for him to do anything against me."

Malone cannot argue, not after his disastrous Game 4. The Jazz were desperate for a big fourth quarter, and Malone offered one of the smallest you'll ever see.

Ian O'Connor

New York Daily News

SEND OUT THE MOUNTED police and put up the barricades to protect the Magnificant Mile of Michigan Avenue.

Unlike the World Cup zealots who worship the dullest game in the world, basketball fans at least have the decency to wait until their event is over before they begin rioting.

And the NBA Finals are over, folks.

Dan Barreiro

Minneapolis Star Tribune