Forget, as if that's possible, the Magic-Michael mania. The NBA championship may be determined by players with names like Vlade and Scottie or A.C. and B.J.
The drumbeat continued Saturday for the meeting of two of the league's most spectacular performers. At the same time, those performers hummed a different tune - titles go to teams, not individuals."Although the hype is going to be Magic against Michael, I've got to focus on, as a team, what can we do to beat the Lakers, not what we can do to beat Magic," Chicago's Michael Jordan said. "No matter what the media buildup is, it's still a team against a team."
"This is what you live for, to play Michael Jordan in the finals, but you can't get caught in that hype," Los Angeles' Magic Johnson said. "If I get out of my game and try to outscore Michael and all that then we're going to lose big time."
The most glamourous NBA Finals in years begin Sunday.
The Lakers are there for the ninth time in 12 years but had only a two-day rest after beating Portland in six games in the Western Conference finals.
The Bulls, making the first finals appearance in their 25-year history, had five days off after sweeping Detroit for the Eastern Conference crown.
Chicago coach Phil Jackson had several concerns - re-energizing his team after the layoff, getting his aggressive defense to play patiently when the Lakers hold the ball for 20 seconds, and stopping guard Byron Scott from sneaking downcourt when Jordan drives to the basket.
Los Angeles coach Mike Dunleavy had to deal with a rested Chicago team that likes to run and his subpar forward James Worthy, who is expected to play despite an ankle injury.
They had more to think about than two superstars.
"It's not a problem getting the rest of the team up," Jackson said. "We won as a team this year. We've grown up as a team, and as a team we're ready to step ahead."
"We don't look at it as Michael vs. Magic," Dunleavy said. "One guy is not going to beat us and we win as a team."
The best-of-7 series features interesting matchups - Worthy against Scottie Pippen, Lakers forward Sam Perkins against Horace Grant and Chicago's outside shooting center Bill Cartwright against Vlade Divac.
With B.J. Armstrong, Will Perdue, Cliff Levingston and Craig Hodges, Chicago's bench is deeper than the Lakers', which features A.C. Green and Terry Teagle.
"The bench is going to be a key to this series," Johnson said. "I also think one of the silent guys has got to come forward for either team . . . somebody who you didn't look for that's going to have a great series."
The focus, however, never leaves Magic and Michael for long, even though Johnson isn't expected to be guarding Jordan much.
"What is really the show," Jackson said, "is who has influence over the game, and Michael and Magic have great influence, regardless of whether they're guarding each other.
"It's going to be an interesting contrast in styles - one with the energy that Michael provides to the game defensively, rebounding, blocking shots, the other the energy that Magic brings to the game by directing the offense, by carrying the offense and by really making critical plays work well for his ballclub."
While Worthy may be hobbled by his injury, Jordan doesn't expect his sore knee to affect his game much. And Jordan has had more time to rest after Chicago eliminated Detroit last Monday.
"That's a big plus for them," Dunleavy said. "They're healthy and they're rested and they're playing at home."
Los Angeles has the edge in experience, having won three of the last six titles, although Chicago has been in the last three Eastern Conference finals.
"We hope that our hunger is going to overcome their experience a little bit," Jordan said.
The Bulls plan to be aggressive on offense, a contrast to the Lakers' slowdown style.
"If we can just run them and set the tempo and just keep running them, they won't be able to run their halfcourt game," Grant said.
The Lakers kept Portland from running as much as it wanted but, Grant said, "the Blazers really turned the ball over a lot and they made some critical mistakes and they took some bad shots. ... We took care of the ball very well in the playoffs, and I think we can do it in this series."
The Bulls have won 11 of their 12 playoff games, outscoring opponents by an average of 12.5 points. The Lakers are 11-3 but have only a 4.9-point edge over their opponents.
The teams split their two-game regular season series but haven't met since Feb. 3.
Now they could face each other seven times to determine a champion. Seven Michael-Magic matchups.
"I expect," Dunleavy said, "that there'll be a lot of highlight films made out of this series."
Tale of the tape
Chicago Bulls: Michael Jordan
Weight: 200 lbs.
LA Lakers: Earvin Magic Johnson
Weight: 220 lbs.
Points Magic Jordan Assists Magic Jordan
'91 average 19.4 31.5 '91 average 12.5 5.5
'91 playoff 22.9 31.1 '91 playoff 12.7 7.1
Career avg. 19.7 32.9 Career avg. 11.4 5.9
'91 average 7.0 6.0 '91 average 1.3 2.7
'91 playoff 8.1 6.3 '91 playoff 1.2 2.2
Career avg. 7.3 6.3 Career avg. 1.9 2.9
Salary First Team 8 4
(In millions) $2.4 $2.5 All-NBA('91 not included)
Years experience 12 7 MVP 3 3
Championships 5 0 Playoff MVP 3 0
AllStar Appearance 10 6 Def. player of yr. 0 1
All-Def 1st team 0 4
Source: AP Sports\ (In millions) $2.4 $2.5