Simply by reaching the NBA Finals for a second year in a row, the Utah Jazz defied history.
In the '90s, four teams other than the Jazz reached the NBA Finals and encountered - and lost to - the Chicago Bulls. What's odd is that the Bulls somehow proved to be the kiss of death for defeated Finals opponents.In 1991, the Los Angeles Lakers posted the third-best record in the NBA during the regular season, upset Portland in the Western Conference Finals, then got handled by the Bulls, 4-1. The Lakers won the first game of that championship series by two points, then lost the next four by an average of 12.8. The next season, Magic Johnson retired after announcing he had tested HIV positive. Without Magic to get them easy shots, the shooting percentages of James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Byron Scott and Vlade Divac declined. The Lakers finished sixth in the Pacific Division and barely sneaked into the playoffs ahead of Houston. In the first round, they were bounced by Portland, 3 games to 1.
In 1992, the Trail Blazers, fielding essentially a seven-man team, posted the second-best record in the NBA. They went 11-4 in the Western Conference playoffs, then pushed the Bulls to six games (though their four losses were by an average of 15 points). The next season, Danny Ainge departed for Phoenix; leading scorer Clyde Drexler was limited by injuries to 49 games; Jerome Kersey missed 16 games; Kevin Duckworth missed seven games, and his stats fell off noticeably. The Blazers fell to third place in the Pacific Division and were ousted by San Antonio, 3-1, in the first round of the playoffs.
In 1993, Phoenix was loaded with scorers. Charles Barkley, Dan Majerle, Kevin Johnson, Richard Dumas, Cedric Ceballos, Tom Chambers, and Ainge all averaged double figures, and all had games of 28 points or more that season. Besides being easily the league's highest-scoring team, the Suns also were the winningest. But in the Finals, the Bulls showed that they were capable of putting points on the board while also playing some defense, and the Suns succumbed in six. The next season, everything went wrong. Injuries and illnesses cost the Suns 211 player games. Drug problems put Dumas on the suspended list for the entire season. Chambers took the free-agent route out of town. Of the top seven scorers the year before, two had departed, and the other five saw their shooting percentages decrease. The Suns finished third in the West but lost a tough seven-game series to Houston in the second round.
In 1996, the Seattle SuperSonics appeared to be a perfect blend of youth and experience. Led by guard Gary Payton and forward Shawn Kemp and with a talented, diverse, seven-man supporting cast, the Sonics breezed through the first two rounds of the playoffs. They subdued Utah in seven games, then fell behind the Bulls 3-0 before stretching the series to six games. The next season, Seattle was bitten by the greed bug. Kemp, angry over a hefty contract awarded to free-agent center Jim McIlvaine, pouted from the start. McIlvaine was an overpaid bust. Aging guard Craig Ehlo, another free-agent acquisition, was also a disappointment. Vincent Askew and Frank Brickowski, the team enforcers, were allowed to depart via free agency. Nate McMillan and Detlef Schrempf missed 44 and 20 games, respectively. Seattle still finished atop the Pacific Division but got bounced by Houston in the second round.