The Chicago Bulls have opted to let Scottie Pippen decide if his sore left foot will keep him from playing in Game 1 of the NBA Finals today. Meanwhile, the defending champions are focusing on the Utah Jazz. Specifically, John Stockton.
"He may not score (a lot), but he's going to run their offense," Chicago coach Phil Jackson said after his team's three-hour practice session at the Berto Center. "We've got to get the ball out of his hands. Stockton is the one you have to defend. Malone is the beneficiary."Added guard Steve Kerr: "The matchups aren't as difficult for us as is their execution. They run their offense better than any team in the league."
Ron Harper will likely draw the opening assignment to defend Stockton, but Jackson said the Bulls will mix things up - even, at times, putting Michael Jordan on the Jazz point guard.
"It's a matchup we'll definitely use," said Jackson.
A sure thing, however, isn't the case for the Bulls at small forward. Pippen, who suffered a soft tissue injury on the bottom of his left foot in Game 5 of the Eastern finals against Miami, hasn't practiced and has been undergoing therapy since leaving the floor in the first quarter Wednesday.
"I'm doing fine," said Pippen, who is wearing a brace on his foot to ease the pain. Tests for a stress fracture or ligament damage were negative, but the Bulls' other Dream Teamer walks with a noticeable limp. "I know I'm not going to be 100 percent, especially tomorrow. But I feel like I can contribute."
Jackson said Pippen will determine his status during pregame warmups.
"This will be a decision by Scottie, a matter of what (pain) he can or cannot stand," he said. "We are going to worry about it if it becomes a reality."
Should Pippen opt not to play, the Bulls will start Toni Kukoc in his place.
"Toni loves to step into these situations," said Jackson. ". . . He fills in great. That's why he is a sixth man of the year (award winner)."
Kerr said the Bulls are confident they can win with or without Pippen. Can Chicago do the same without rebounder Dennis Rodman as well?
"That's a concern to us," Jackson said when asked if Rodman can keep his emotions in check, especially if on the receiving end of a hard pick. "As far as retaliation, Dennis doesn't go gently into the night when something happens to him."
Jackson did say Rodman is mindful of how his antics played a role in San Antonio's playoff loss to Utah a few years back.
"It's something that hasn't been forgotten," said Jackson.
Nor has Chicago's key to success.
"Our biggest task," concluded Pippen. "Is going to be shutting down Stockton and Malone."