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Bulls set to turn up the heat tonight

Published Oct. 13, 2005

What: Game 5.Series: Bulls lead 3-1.

When: Tonight at 9

Where: Inglewood, Calif.

TV: Ch. 8.

Radio: WFNS-910-Tampa.

What seemed unthinkable a week ago, when the Chicago Bulls were just cutting their teeth in the NBA Finals, is becoming more thinkable every day.

The Bulls are playing as if tonight's Game 5 against the Los Angeles Lakers will be a formality at the Great Western Forum. From all indications, their last game of the season will result in their first league title.

Chicago, leading the best-of-seven series 3-1, has overpowered the Lakers with an all-around game, pressuring and double-teaming on defense, and performing on offense with skill and confidence.

The Lakers are hurting, tired from the ravages of injury and three straight losses and, apparently, are a beaten ballclub. And the situation only gets worse for the Lakers because the status of guard Byron Scott and forward James Worthy remains clouded by injuries.

Game 6, if necessary, is Friday night at Chicago Stadium.

The Bulls, from star guard Michael Jordan on down, want to end the series as soon as possible, even if it means winning in front of 17,000-plus enemy fans.

"We're close, but we're still not there yet," said Jordan, the hands-down favorite to win the series most valuable player award. "We have to still maintain some type of patience and stay focused and not let the media give it to us already. We haven't gotten it yet, and we've still got one more game to win.

"It's tough, because everybody's saying it's over. I think it's very key how we approach the basketball game, to make them doubt their situation.

"It would be great to end it now, go back home and celebrate."

If anything, the Bulls, out of respect for their opponent, say they will play with more ferocity than in the previous four games.

The Lakers still have point guard Magic Johnson, perhaps the greatest team player in NBA history. And though most of the Lakers have played poorly in the series, the Bulls know Johnson is not ready to concede.

"I think they're still a team with a lot of pride," Jordan said. "I think they'll come out and play hard. We have to come out and make them think about playing harder, and not wanting to go back to Chicago."

Added Bulls forward Scottie Pippen: "It would be easy to sit back and say we'll win the next game, we'll win one of the next three, but we've got to come down to reality we've got to go out and play hard. We're coming in in the driver's seat, but we can't lay down on our heels. They're not going to give it to us."

Johnson, a veteran of 12 NBA Finals, said the Lakers must look inside themselves for answers.

The Lakers are averaging 89.3 points for the series in comparison with 106.3 in the regular season and 108.2 in their 14 earlier playoff games. Center Vlade Divac is the only L.A. player shooting better than 50 percent, and both Worthy (sprained left ankle) and Scott (bruised right shoulder) are questionable for tonight.

"My thoughts are, let's just go out and play hard. The only way for us to play is to step on the floor and give 125 percent and don't leave anything in the locker room," Johnson said Tuesday.

"We've done good things. We just haven't rewarded ourselves when we've done them. We've just got to have a total good game."

Johnson criticized his teammates for their lackluster play in Sunday's 97-82 loss. The Lakers promise a better effort in perhaps their final game of the season.

"If everyone has the same attitude as Magic, then we will have something to go on," said Lakers forward Sam Perkins, who shot 1-of-15 in Game 4. "We have to follow the leader."

The Lakers are reminded of the similarities to the 1989 NBA Finals, when Johnson and Scott were sidelined with injuries and Detroit swept them in four games.

"When you're not healthy, great teams take advantage of that," Johnson said.

The 1990-91 Chicago Bulls are on the threshold of becoming a great team.

"We're going to stick it to them early," Bulls forward Horace Grant said of the injury-plagued Lakers. "We're so close. We definitely don't want it to slip away.

"I'd love to have them all hurt _ I want to win a championship badly."