?When Jordan posts up near the basket. Detroit typically puts three men on him, with Dumars most often behind him, using his strong hips and legs to "body" Jordan away from the basket. When the entry pass comes in from the point guard. Thomas leaves that guard and double-teams Jordan. If that means the point guard is free, so be it. Meanwhile, another defender, perhaps Laimbeer or Salley, will have come over and planted himself in the lane, maybe on the baseline side, maybe toward the middle. Dumars will then turn Jordan toward that help. Jordan loves the baseline. "Even though there's less room down there, I can be more creative." he says. But by and large, the Pistons take it away from him.
?When Jordan comes off a screen set near the baseline—his most frequent maneuver when he's playing shooting guard—a host of Jordan Rules come into play. Dumars must follow him around the screen—no matter if he has to go into the bleachers—to prevent Jordan from making a backdoor cut and receiving an alley-oop pass for an almost certain dunk. The Piston—usually Laimbeer—guarding the Bull setting the pick will step out to make Jordan receive the ball farther from the basket. In addition—and this is important—that man will guard against Jordan's making a "tight curl" off the top of the screen and suddenly looping back into the middle to take a short pass on the dead run, a circumstance that is almost always disastrous for the defense.
In most cases Jordan will have to step back and take the pass on the wing. Then Thomas will come over, creating a double team, and the process begins all over again. If Jordan puts the ball on the floor, at least two players stay on him, pushing him toward even more help. If he passes, the weak-side defenders adjust to play two Pistons against four Bulls or one against three. As long as Jordan is out of the picture, they love those odds.
What's more, the Pistons make it even harder on Jordan and Chicago's coaches by varying the timing of their traps and help-and-recover maneuvers. Sometimes they come as soon as Jordan touches the ball, other times not until he has made his first dribble, other times not until he has begun to penetrate. For Jordan, facing Detroit is a nonstop physical and mental challenge. Think of it from Jordan's standpoint: This isn't a cat-and-mouse game; it is a cats-and-mouse game.
So Chicago knows that the Pistons have their million-dollar baby wrapped up in chains. What can the Bulls do about it this season? On paper, anyway, it seems simple: Hope that Hodges's jump shot is more accurate in pressure situations than it was last year. Hope that rookie point guard B.J. Armstrong of Iowa is good enough to start—thereby enabling Jordan to return to shooting guard—and that he can exploit the nooks and crannies in the Detroit defense. Hope that another rookie. 6'11" Stacey King of Oklahoma, becomes enough of a scoring threat inside to make the Pistons pay for enforcing their rules; the current pivotman. Bill Cartwright, is not.
"As Michael's supporting cast gets better, this defense is going to be tougher to play," says Dumars. "Jordan is the constant. We know what he can do. It's what everybody else does that matters." So far. that hasn't been enough.