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Jackson approaches Bulls’ bench with more appreciation

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Phil Jackson was criticized frequently during the Eastern Conference finals for his substitution patterns. His reasoning: He just didn't have the confidence in his bench.

However, Sunday's Game 7 broadened his mind about his bench's capability."I've learned to stick with our bench," Jackson said. "I think that's what I have to consider and keep on considering in the next series."

Playing fewer minutes than the Pacers, the Bulls' bench - particularly Steve Kerr - provided noticeably more productivity and intensity in Sunday's Game 7.

Usually a consistent shooter, Kerr had hit a cold streak in the Indiana series. He finally awoke during the decisive game, scoring 11 points, including three 3-pointers. His point total equaled his combined total from the previous six games.

"I have been really struggling," Kerr said. "I was able to get some open looks finally and help contribute. It feels great."

Jud Buechler was another sub whom Jackson finally had the courage to let play, and it paid off. Buechler grabbed five rebounds in 11 minutes.

"I think my rebounds and energy sparked the team," he said. "I feel real good about what I did out there."

BYE, BYE BIRDIE? He may be the coach of the year, but many wonder if Larry Bird will return as Indiana's coach. He's expressed interest, but he's basing that decision on his players' wishes.

"It's been an enjoyable year," said Bird. "I'll just have to sit down with a couple of the guys and get their feeling and ask if they like what we're trying to do here."

Judging by Marc Jackson's comments, he's coming back. "He made playing fun again for us. He definitely was the coach of the year," Jackson said.

GOOD CALLS: For this first time all series, nobody was spouting off about poor officiating. Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan even went as far as to say it was good.

Bird wasn't quite so cordial. After answering his last question, Bird said, "And the refs still suck." Of course, he said it with a huge grin - yes he can smile. The season's over, and what's $10,000 mean anyway? It's only a couple days work.

POLITICAL BACKING: Midway through the fourth quarter, Illinois native Jesse Jackson was displayed on the United Center scoreboard video screen waving a sign that said "Never Break-Up Champs."

WHO'S REALLY BETTER? Following the game, Mark Jackson was asked how bad the loss hurt. "It really hurts because we're the better team," said Jackson.

Ironically, Pippen wouldn't offer similar praise for his team. "I can't say the best team won, even though we won," said Pippen. "I have a lot of respect for Indiana. I think both teams are deserving of making the Finals."

BEATABULLS: Rik Smits battled the Bulls for seven games, and he says these aren't the Bulls of old.

"I believe they are vulnerable," he said. "I think they have showed it against us and other teams in the playoffs. They showed it (Sun-day)."