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Pressure Cooker
Phil Taylor
June 10, 1996
In the Finals the Sonics will find that no team turns up the heat on defense the way the Bulls do
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June 10, 1996

Pressure Cooker

In the Finals the Sonics will find that no team turns up the heat on defense the way the Bulls do

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Inside, Rodman, the league's top re-bounder (14.9 average) for the fifth straight season, gives the Chicago defense muscle. He is not quite the perimeter defender he once was, because he doesn't like to venture away from the prime rebounding areas, but around the basket there is no one more relentless. And his ability to irritate opponents should not be underestimated. Rodman and Seattle's Ail-Star power forward Shawn Kemp will get to know each other quite well during the Finals. "The thing Shawn will have to do is keep his composure," says Seattle forward-center Sam Perkins. "Rodman will make you want to knock his head off, but the minute you start thinking more about that than about playing basketball, he's won."

Rodman, acquired from the San Antonio Spurs last October, and Harper have been the two biggest reasons for Chicago's defensive improvement this season. Known earlier in his career, with Cleveland and the Los Angeles Clippers, as a solid scorer but only a mediocre defender, Harper has discovered the joys of defense with the Bulls. He has become so reliable that the Bulls identified a player in each of their first three series whom they wanted to blanket—Miami's Hardaway, New York's John Starks and Orlando's Scott—and assigned Harper to cover him. "And in each case he did the job," says Cleamons. "Harp is the unsung hero of this defense."

In the Finals, the Bulls will no doubt designate some unlucky Sonic to be the focus of their defensive attention. Shooting guard Hersey Hawkins is a candidate, as is Payton. "They took the ball out of Penny Hardaway's hands against Orlando, and I'm sure they'll try to do the same with Gary," Malone says. How well Seattle deals with the Bulls' pressure will in all likelihood determine how competitive the series will be.

The Bulls are rested—they had nine days between the end of the Orlando series and the beginning of the Finals—and they are prepared to put another opponent in the grip of their defense. Seattle should last only five games before the Bulls clamp their hands around the championship trophy.

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