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Jordan keeps it out of reach // Bulls put Orlando to sweep

If the Magic needed any extra motivation to snap out of its recent fog and avoid finishing as the eighth-best team in the Eastern Conference, it should have gotten plenty Sunday.

Loser of five of its past six games, the Magic is stumbling toward the playoffs, so the last thing it needs to see again is Chicago, which spanked the Magic for the ninth straight time, 110-94 at Orlando Arena.

The win in front of a sellout crowd of 17,248 completed the Bulls' three-game series sweep and moved Orlando (41-34) perilously close to a possible first-round playoff fight with these same Bulls, who swept the Magic out of the playoffs last year in the conference final.

Orlando holds the seventh spot, but is just two games ahead of Washington (39-36) and 2{ in front of Cleveland (38-36).

"We're going to have to try to maintain the seventh (spot)," Magic coach Richie Adubato said. "We've got two challenging weeks (and seven games) ahead of us. It's not going to be easy, but I think we can do it."

No surprise that Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen orchestrated the Bulls' victory. Jordan, who moved into fifth place on the NBA all-time scoring list with 26,726 points, had 37 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists, and Pippen had 21 points.

The Magic got 23 points apiece from Penny Hardaway, who played despite a queasy stomach, and Rony Seikaly, who also had nine rebounds. Gerald Wilkins chipped in 13 points off the bench.

Although the score was nearly as ugly as the previous encounter in mid-February (a 110-89 Chicago win), the Magic did all it could. The team is still not at full strength, even though everyone played. Dennis Scott (left knee), Brian Shaw (strained neck), Horace Grant (back spasms) and Seikaly (ankle) played despite pain, though Adubato indicated that Grant may not be able to do it much longer.

Chicago was hurting, too. Toni Kukoc isn't fully recovered from a right foot injury and rebounding ace Dennis Rodman remains out with a sprained left knee.

Still, the only players who really mattered were the obvious ones _ Jordan and Pippen. After the Magic played the Bulls close throughout the first half, the two Chicago stars jointly put the Magic on its collective back, scoring a combined 19 points during a 21-2 run early in the third quarter that gave their team a 20-point lead.

It was a run the Bulls knew was coming. Apparently, it was just a matter of when.

"We felt we should have had a bigger lead, but we never really took advantage of some opportunities," Jordan said.

That the Bulls got away from the Magic wasn't because of a lack of defense. The Magic, which rotated Wilkins, Shaw and Hardaway on Jordan, tried everything to stop the perennial league scoring champ except tie his shoelaces together. But even that might not have worked.

"You think he's having a quiet night and all of a sudden he turns it on and everybody around him looks like they're in slow motion or little kids," Seikaly said of Jordan, who had just 13 points in the first half, but 16 in that momentous third quarter. "He has that kind of effect on the game. We've seen it so many times. It's him. There's no explanation. You can run three people at him and he's still going to fade away, fall down and hit his shots."

As Adubato pointed out, "You can't give (Chicago) a 20-point lead and think you're going to take it back." The Magic, of course, didn't, but at least it gave it a shot, scoring inside and stroking a few three-pointers to cut the Bulls' lead to 91-83 with 7:10 left.

But then the Bulls, at a league-best 65-10, showed why they are on pace to win 70-plus games again. This team is deep _ so deep that reserves Brian Williams (10 points), Steve Kerr (7) and Jason Caffey (14), not Jordan and Pippen, rescued the team, steadily building the lead back until it hit 20 again at 106-86 with 2:13 to go.