The Chicago Bulls have a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals because they have put together a suffocating, trapping defense that is showing every indication of ending the series tonight in Game 5. It's a scrambling, aggressive style that is dependent upon the defense the Bulls want to play at a particular time, whether it's a zone or trap, or fake trap, or a disguise _ and the Lakers must solve the problem.
If and when the Lakers have been able to solve the defense on one half of the floor, there's another defense waiting at the midcourt line, and it starts all over.
The Bulls defense is giving up some easy baskets to Lakers center Vlade Divac, or someone else rolling to the hoop, but for the most part it has worn the Lakers down _ mentally and physically.
Specifically, it has caused guards Magic Johnson and Byron Scott to alter their games.
The Bulls have taken the ball out of Johnson's hands early, forcing him to pass to Divac and Sam Perkins and James Worthy. The Bulls will risk that strategy because it takes the ball away from Johnson.
The Bulls then double-team the low post, attacking from the blind side and forcing a hurried shot or pass.
Scott, whose outside shooting destroyed the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals, has been a non-factor in the championship series.
Bulls guard John Paxson has shadowed Scott, and gotten to him quickly when he touches the ball. Scott is injured now with a bruised right shoulder, but when he was healthy and the series was young, the Bulls took him out of the offense.
As a result, the Bulls defense is having more effect on the Lakers offense than the Lakers defense is having on the Bulls offense. The Lakers are averaging just 89.3 points a game in the series.
_ JOHN HARRIS