GORED BY THE BULLS ORLANDO NOT ONLY GOT SWEPT BY CHICAGO IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS BUT ALSO FOUND ITSELF ON THE HORNS OF A DILEMMA ABOUT ITS FUTURE

June 02, 1996

Orlando Magic forward Dennis Scott looked at the approaching
media horde after practice last Friday and bellowed a warning to
his teammates. "Look out," he shouted. "Here come the vultures."
He was applying that word to the wrong group, which wasn't
surprising, because one of Orlando's biggest shortcomings last
week in the Eastern Conference finals was that the normally
sweet-shooting Scott's aim was very rarely true. The vultures
preying on the Magic didn't carry notebooks or microphones, they
wore red and black, and they were methodically picking Orlando's
carcass clean. The Chicago Bulls had not only stripped the Magic
of the basketball in a number of memorable defensive sequences,
they had also torn away at Orlando's reputation as a dynasty in
the making. The Bulls were in such complete control that Scott's
comment was on target in at least one way: Even though at the
time the Magic was trailing only 2-0 in the best-of-seven
series, Orlando was dead meat.

And on Monday, Chicago, sparked by guard Michael Jordan's 45
points, made sure the Magic stayed that way by completing a
four-game sweep with a 106-101 victory at the O-rena. In fact,
Scott's nickname, 3-D, could have served as a moniker for this
series, with the D standing for decimated, which described the
Magic; dominant, which described the Bulls' performance; and
dud, which neatly described what had become of the most highly
anticipated playoff matchup of 1996. The series so lacked drama
that, after Chicago held Orlando to 10 fourth-quarter points in
its 86-67 victory in Saturday's Game 3, the only question left
was whether the Magic would be eliminated before all the members
of center Shaquille O'Neal and point guard Anfernee (Penny)
Hardaway's supporting cast were wearing supporting casts. Power
forward Horace Grant had one on his left arm, thanks to the
hyper-extended elbow he suffered in Game 1 that sidelined him
for the rest of the series, and guard Nick Anderson left the
O-rena after Game 3 with one on his right wrist, badly sprained
in a fourth-quarter fall.

Jon Koncak, who took Grant's place in the starting lineup,
played in Game 3 after a cortisone shot helped dull the pain in
his injured left knee--if only temporarily. "I'm going to have a
wonderful time getting out of bed tomorrow morning," he said
after the game. Koncak wasn't the only one for whom rising from
the sack was a dismal experience. Guard Brian Shaw was scratched
for Game 3 when he woke up the day of the game with severe neck
spasms. "When things like that happen," Hardaway said, "you
can't help thinking that maybe it wasn't meant to be."

It got so bad for the Magic that even Chicago couldn't help but
feel a touch of sympathy. "When I shook hands with [Orlando
coach] Brian Hill before the game, I asked him what next could
go wrong with his basketball team," Bulls coach Phil Jackson
said after Game 3. "I guess he found out today." And when asked
to assess the disheartened Magic's performance, most of the
Chicago players tried to be tactful, particularly after their
Game 3 victory in which they held Orlando to the second-fewest
points in playoff history. "It looks like they don't quite have
a clear idea of exactly how they want to attack us," said
Jordan, the leader of the Bulls' ravenous defense. "I wouldn't
say we've broken their spirit, but you can see a little bit of
frustration from Shaq and Penny," forward Scottie Pippen said.
Not surprisingly, Chicago's other starting forward, Dennis
Rodman, was more blunt. "It's like their sink is stopped up or
something," he said in describing Orlando's offense after Game
3. "I think they need some liquid Drano."

The Magic now faces an off-season that could be even more
devastating than this series against Chicago was. O'Neal and
Grant become free agents on July 1, and Orlando will have to
break the bank to keep them both. O'Neal, in particular, may be
especially hard-nosed in negotiations because of the Los Angeles
Lakers' interest in him. The Lakers will not be able to match
the monetary offer the Magic can make to O'Neal (who earned $5.7
million this season), because Orlando is not bound by the salary
cap in re-signing its own free agent. Conversely, Orlando will
not be able to match the obvious benefits that L.A. would
provide for Shaq's burgeoning careers as an actor and as a
rapper. O'Neal's only public comments have indicated a desire to
stay with the Magic, and many of those close to him believe he
is leaning toward re-signing with Orlando.

Then there is the beleaguered Hill, for whom nothing has gone
right lately. After the loss in Game 3, he was scheduled to meet
the media in the interview room after Jackson. But when he saw
that Jordan, who was unaware of the planned order, had taken the
podium after Jackson, Hill walked off and declined to go into
the interview room at all. Orlando front-office sources said on
Saturday that there was no truth to the rumor that the Magic had
contacted University of Kentucky coach Rick Pitino and asked him
not to agree to a deal with the New Jersey Nets until the Magic
officials were free to negotiate with him after the playoffs.
And on Sunday, Magic general manager John Gabriel declared,
"Brian Hill has done a great job coaching this team. His job is
safe." Nevertheless, rumors persisted that Hill's tenure was in
jeopardy. Being swept in the playoffs three consecutive
years--the Magic also suffered sweeps by the Indiana Pacers in
the first round in 1994 and by the Houston Rockets in the NBA
Finals in '95--is not good for any coach's job security, even
one who was handcuffed by his team's injuries, as Hill was
against the Bulls. Could the Orlando dynasty be crumbling
before it ever takes shape? "Right now there are a lot of
unanswered questions about this team," Scott acknowledged after
Game 3.

One question the Magic should ask itself is whether it is as
passionate about winning a title as a championship team must be.
Even given the Magic's injuries, the ease with which Chicago
handled Orlando solidified the Magic's reputation as a team that
is far more flash than substance. All the Little Pennys and Shaq
Fus don't add up to a single championship ring.

The Magic needs look only as far as Jordan to see the passion it
lacks. The Bulls' astonishing 1995-96 record--72-10 in the
regular season and 11-1 in the postseason through Monday--has
been largely the result of Jordan's drive to erase the humbling
memory of being eliminated by Orlando in the playoffs last
season, the only playoff series Jordan has lost since '90. As he
coolly and confidently led Chicago to its Game 3 win--with
considerable help from Pippen, who broke out of a slump with
11-of-14 shooting and 27 points--the image of Jordan being
embarrassed by Anderson's steal in the final moments of the
Magic's Game 1 win last year on the same floor seemed like
ancient history. The Bulls may not have seen the real Magic in
this series, but, then, the Magic did not see the real Jordan
last year.

The real Jordan led the second-half defensive charge in Game 2
that cut an 18-point Magic lead to two in six minutes and wiped
out any chance that Orlando might have had of making the series
competitive. Chicago put on a clinic on pressure defense by, for
example, forcing Magic players other than Hardaway to handle,
and in many cases mishandle, the ball. That pressure allowed the
Bulls to recover for a 93-88 win following their 121-83 blowout
victory in Game 1. "The frustrating thing is that they've beaten
us three different ways," Koncak said after Game 3. "They've
kicked our butts from the opening tip, they've wiped out a big
lead, and they've taken over in the fourth quarter. That gets
inside your head a little bit."

Rodman was more concerned with getting under the Magic's skin,
especially O'Neal's. He and Shaq had a running battle on and off
the court, with O'Neal plainly annoyed at suggestions that
Rodman was guarding him well--and just as irritated at the
thought that Rodman might be approaching his prominence as a
product pitchman. "He's a gimmick," O'Neal said after Game 1.
"He can't match me on or off the court." Knowing that he was
getting to O'Neal only encouraged the Worm, and he continued to
apply the needle. "He'll be a great player...someday," Rodman
said after Game 3. "He can talk all the trash he wants to, but
if he wants to go home with a trophy, he better learn how to win
and how to get his game together. Right now his game is totally
off."

That wasn't completely true, though the Bulls did hold O'Neal to
17 points in Game 3 after he had scored 27 and 36 points in the
first two games. O'Neal, as usual, was his own worst enemy at
the free throw line. He made only six of his 24 foul shots in
the first three games and often sent the ball crashing off the
rim with a leaden touch that would have made Wilt Chamberlain
look like Rick Barry. As for Hardaway, Orlando's other All-Star,
he was the only bright spot for the Magic in the Game 1 debacle,
with 38 points, before slipping to 18 each in Games 2 and 3, and
28 in Game 4. But Orlando suffered more because of its role
players than its stars. Scott and Anderson, the Magic's best
three-point marksmen, missed 15 of their 17 three-point attempts
in the first two games. And no sooner had Anderson shown signs
of life by making 2 of 4 treys in Game 3 than he went down with
the wrist injury. Scott's problems persisted in Game 3, in which
he made just 1 of 7 three-pointers and shot 1 for 9 overall. In
fact, in the series, Rodman, not known for his ability to put
the ball in the basket, outscored Scott 46-29.

Scott and Anderson's shooting struggles were a result of the
Bulls' defensive design. Chicago didn't double-team O'Neal as
soon as he touched the ball inside, as most teams do, which is
what allows Shaq to feed the Magic's perimeter players for open
jump shots. The Bulls varied the timing of their double teams,
often waiting until O'Neal made his move toward the basket.
"We're trying to double without tipping our hand," Jackson said
after Game 3. As a consequence Chicago defenders were able to
keep close track of Anderson and Scott around the three-point
arc and deny them their usual quota of open looks at the basket.
"And when they did get a good look, they might have felt they
had to rush the shot a little bit," Pippen said.

"It almost doesn't matter what they've tried to do against us,
because everything they've tried has worked," Scott said after
Game 3. "Let's face it, they've been taking us to school." The
Magic would be wise to take notes. Orlando clearly needs lessons
in how to win a championship, and Chicago is the ultimate
teacher.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER COVER PHOTO Chicago Fire Michael Jordan and the Bull light up Orlando COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER New offensive star Rodman won a battle of the boards and a war of words with Shaq. [Shaquille O'Neal and Dennis Rodman] COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBA PHOTOS Demonstrating Chicago's smothering defense, Luc Longley (13) and Pippen pinched Penny. [Luc Longley, Anfernee Hardaway and Scottie Pippen] COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Orlando contained Jordan's Game 3 scoring (17 points) but couldn't halt the rest of his nonpareil play. [Shaquille O'Neal and Michael Jordan]

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