'Jordan Rules' revisited (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday May 29, 2007 11:04AM; Updated: Tuesday May 29, 2007 11:26AM
In Daly's words, here's what the Pistons did:
"If Michael was at the point, we forced him left and doubled him. If he was on the left wing, we went immediately to a double team from the top. If he was on the right wing, we went to a slow double team. He could hurt you equally from either wing -- hell, he could hurt you from the hot-dog stand -- but we just wanted to vary the look. And if he was on the box, we doubled with a big guy.
"The other rule was, any time he went by you, you had to nail him. If he was coming off a screen, nail him. We didn't want to be dirty -- I know some people thought we were -- but we had to make contact and be very physical."
Daly turns his attention back to the TV screen and watches James miss an off-balance shot that is contested by both the man guarding him, Tayshaun Prince, and help defender Rasheed Wallace. "LeBron has to take the toughest shots possible and that takes it out of even a great player," Daly says.
Then James dribbles into traffic and throws an errant pass toward Larry Hughes. The King looks frustrated.
"People underestimate how hard it is to play with a superstar," Daly says. "Until you're comfortable with your own game, you're never quite sure what to do."
He's correct. James' teammates, particularly Hughes and shooting guard Sasha Pavlovic, often look confused. Go set a pick for LeBron? Clear to give him space? Spot up in the corner to get a three?
James is a long way from having Jordan's all-around offensive game and his teammates are a long way from figuring out how to play with him.
"Paxson is a perfect example," Daly says. "He was always on a 12-foot string with Jordan. Always there." It's a great point. The degree of difficulty on James' passes (never mind his shot attempts) is extremely high.
The Pistons beat Jordan's Bulls in five games in that '88 series, starting a three-year streak of playoff-series victories against Chicago. The Bulls finally got by the Pistons in '91, with a sweep in the conference finals, because (a) Jordan stayed great and (b) his teammates figured out how to play with him in Phil Jackson's smoothly constructed triangle offense.
"It was a nice theory," Daly says of the Jordan Rules, "but eventually Scottie Pippen evolved into Scottie Pippen, one of the best players in the game. And once that happened, we couldn't beat them anymore. Michael simply found other guys when we ganged up on him."
Daly watches James get thwarted on another drive to the basket. "LeBron will mature into a Michael-type player if the Cavaliers develop a second superstar," Daly says. "I don't care how good your main guy is, you are not going to progress unless you have that.
"But I am extremely impressed with LeBron, his poise, his talent, his whole competitive demeanor. Once he gets the needed help, he will be unstoppable, just like Michael was."
In Sunday's Game 3, James and the Cavs took a big step toward that goal.
Jack McCallum is the author of "Seven Seconds or Less: My Season on the Bench with the Runnin' and Gunnin' Phoenix Suns," a behind-the-scenes account of the Suns' 2005-06 season. Click here to order a copy.