They took on Pat Riley's Miami Heat, and it was no contest. They traded hard fouls with the New York Knicks, and they survived. They toyed with the team of the future, and Orlando became sweep city.

Now the Chicago Bulls try to clear the final obstacle on their course to immortality. The NBA Finals begin tonight.So what if the Seattle SuperSonics won 64 regular-season games, 10th best in NBA history? So what if Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton give Seattle the most formidable 1-2 punch west of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen? So what if the Sonics play relentless, confusing defense?

The Bulls are on a run for the ages.

They aren't only supposed to win, they are supposed to win handily. Best-of-7 series? Why even bother calling it that when it isn't expected to last more than four or five games?

"It's a shame when you're expected to win so easily that anything less is a disappointment," Chicago center Luc Longley said. "We certainly don't expect to walk away with it."

But they do expect to win, a perfect finish for a sensational season.

"We've played under the watchful eye of the media and fans that expect great things," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said. "And it's a mark of a great team that they have been able to meet those expectations."

Often, the expectations have been their own.

Asked if he was confident that the Bulls would win the first game, Jordan said: "The first, second, third and fourth."

His confidence is justified.

The Bulls won 72 times in the regular season, an NBA record. They were 39-2 at home. They are 11-1 in the playoffs, the lone loss in overtime.

A sweep of Seattle for their fourth title in six years would give the Bulls the best winning percentage in postseason history and would undeniably stamp them as the top team ever.

The Sonics discount all the talk of a short series as just that - talk.

They, too, have had a great season. They swept two-time defending champion Houston in the second round and survived a frantic seven-game series against Utah for the Western Conference title. In so doing, they exorcised the ghost of playoff collapses past.

"We feel like we have a good chance even though we're playing the best team in the history of the league," said Hersey Hawkins, who is expected to start Game 1 with the defensive assignment on Jordan.

Said Seattle coach George Karl: "I'm not predicting, I'm preparing. I have to be prepared for a lot of stuff. There's a lot of greatness out there."

And he wasn't just speaking about the Bulls. He was speaking about Kemp, whom he called "a real man," and about Payton, who "has turned into one of the top five players in the NBA."

One of the marquee matchups pits Kemp against Dennis Rodman. The two power forwards tangled earlier this season, with Rodman getting ejected after the Bulls took a big lead.

Jackson has targeted Kemp as the Seattle player most likely to burn the Bulls. The Chicago coach said Longley, not Rodman, probably will start the game on Kemp.