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Jazz Must Find Game 7

Just when the Utah Jazz could have waved the Chicago Bulls on to championship No. 6, they struck a major blow to expediency. And that's the least they did.

By sending the NBA finals back to the asylum called the Delta Center for Game 6 Sunday night, they've taken the series and the Bulls' "last dance" for quite a spin.

Now, a dynasty dogged by critics who say Chicago has never really been pushed to the limit in the '90s must achieve perhaps its final coronation in one of the toughest buildings in the league.

And they must do it against a Utah team that is like the Bulls in one respect: They sure don't scare easy.

"We're still kicking," said Karl Malone, who had a series-high 39 points as the Jazz beat the Bulls 83-81 Friday night to send the series back to Utah. "We're going back home, something we worked hard for all season long. We want to go home and play with confidence back there, and see what happens."

Despite losing their hard-fought homecourt advantage in Game 2, despite being thoroughly humiliated with that 42-point loss in Game 3, the Jazz are back. Like last year, the series has reached a sixth game. Like last year, the Bulls lead 3-2.

Unlike last year, Game 6 will be played in Utah. And, as folks around here volunteer without apology, so will Game 7, if necessary.

"We want the chance to settle this on our home floor," Antoine Carr said after the Jazz practiced Saturday. "We're still the underdog, and if we come out flat, we're done. It's like we're close, but we're far away."

No team ever has come back from a 3-1 deficit in the finals, and the Bulls haven't lost three games in a row with Michael Jordan in uniform since the beginning of the 1990-91 season.

No, there is no panic in the Bulls. They had what must have been an easy practice in the suburbs of Chicago on Saturday, because Jordan was wearing his diamond earring when reporters arrived on the court.

Ron Harper was wearing a '98 finals T-shirt that read, "Intimidate, Dominate, Celebrate."

And the Bulls have already proved they can win at Utah, where ordinary foes get washed away in the noise.

"We still have the advantage," Scottie Pippen said. "We don't want them to tie the series up. Even though they're very comfortable going back on their home court, we feel very good. We feel like we have a good grasp on this team."

Still, Chicago is seeking a sixth title with more sideshows swirling than ever. This is the running of the Bulls, Part II, with perhaps no more sequels.

The aura surrounding this team is one of greatness and trepidation all at once. If this is, in fact, the apex of the dysfunctional dynasty, what will the closing act look like?

On Saturday, the Bulls borrowed a page fom Dennis Rodman's book. The whole team, including its Zen master coach, Phil Jackson, blew off the media after practice.

The league does not require interviews on travel days, and only coach Jerry Sloan and Carr did interviews after Utah's practice.

Nonetheless, the team that's been called the Unbeat-a-Bulls are now the Unspeak-a-Bulls. What's next, florescent hair for Scottie Pippen? A wrestling gig for Steve Kerr?

Knowing the Bulls, it could be nothing more than the final circling of the wagons. Jordan hinted after Game 5 that all the anticipation and uncertainty surrounding perhaps his last game in Chicago might have hurt the team.

"It's even tougher when you're at home, when you have to worry about all the tickets and getting downtown, and what you're going to do after the game," Jordan said. "Let them deal with the scenarios that we just finished dealing with, and see if we can change places."

Chicago clinched its first title at Los Angeles and its third at Phoenix a 99-98 victory in Game 6 that followed a 108-98 loss at Chicago.

Having earned a reprieve at the United Center, Jazz faithful now place their hopes on the bulging shoulders of Malone and the decibel meter at the Delta Center.

It may seem like nothing to the Bulls after all that buzz in Chicago.

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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