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Michael Jordan was mildly surprised last Friday afternoon as he entered his hotel room in midtown Portland. There on the door were the words: MICHAEL JORDAN SUITE. "That's a first," said Jordan, checking out the bi-level accommodations. "I think this was my room during the [Olympic qualifying] tournament [in July], but I didn't know they renamed it."
Not everyone has treated Jordan and his Bulls so sweetly over the last month. On Jan. 22 the Charlotte Hornets went to Chicago and beat the Bulls 105-97. Six days later Chicago scored only 83 points in an 11-point loss to the Rockets in Houston, and two nights later in Denver they lost 109-102 to the lowly Nuggets. When January mercifully ended, the two-time defending NBA champions had suffered through their first losing month (7-8) since coach Phil Jackson came aboard for the 1989-90 season.
However, the Bulls have seemingly emerged from their hibernation. After a 101-91 rout of the Trail Blazers on Sunday in Portland, Chicago had reeled off four straight wins. At week's end the Bulls were 32-15, which was still the best record in the Eastern Conference and the second best in the league, after that of the Phoenix Suns. "Whatever's wrong with 'em," said Sacramento general manager Jerry Reynolds after the Bulls had buried the Kings 107-88 on Feb. 3, "I hope it spreads."
Nonetheless, all is not right in the Bull ring. In his own inimitable fashion, assistant coach Johnny Bach terms the team's condition as "a little mal de mer rather than all-out malaise," and perhaps that's the case. More specifically, the areas of concern are threefold: offensive execution, injuries and that grand yet elusive trait, team chemistry.
Jordan addressed them all in his suite last Friday. His personal trainer, Tim Grover, sat nearby, waiting to drive Jordan to a weightlifting workout at the Bo Jackson Center in the Nike complex in suburban Beaverton. Jordan lifts six times a week, including an intense 20-minute program on game days. Grover also has charge of Jordan's pregame meal—steak (medium), large baked potato, green salad and ginger ale or water. If the hotel steak isn't lean enough, Grover buys one at a market and brings it back to the kitchen. And to think that 15 years ago, NBA players puffed cigarettes at halftime.
To conserve lungs and legs during what he knew would be a grind of a season, Jackson ordered the Bulls into a slower offensive tempo. For those occasions when they did run, he installed a four-lane transition game—rather than the conventional three lanes—which would enable Chicago to flow more naturally into its half-court triangle offense. But Jordan and teammate Scottie Pippen felt that the offense was stagnant. "We never looked for that initial scoring opportunity in transition," said Jordan, settling back in a chair, "because we were too busy getting into the triangle."
Midway through a game against the San Antonio Spurs on Jan. 24, Jordan took matters into his own hands. He called together Pippen and Horace Grant and urged them to increase the tempo. Although Chicago lost 103-99, Jordan got his point across, and Jackson, as is his wont, agreed to a compromise. He reinstalled the three-lane break that gives Pippen, in particular, more room to operate, but insisted that the Bulls set up in their triangle whenever possible. Chicago is still working out the kinks.
Another offensive issue has resurfaced. At week's end Jordan was averaging 26.2 shots per game (that includes a 49-shot launchathon on Jan. 16 in which he scored 64 points in a 128-124 home loss to the Orlando Magic), his highest total since his 27.8 mark in 1986-87. If Jackson had his druthers, Jordan would be averaging four points less than his league-high average of 32.4. Somewhat surprisingly, Jordan agreed that he's taking too many shots. "And a lot of them are dumb ones," he said. "That's the only word I can use—dumb. The question is why."
O.K., why? "Well, all I know is that our half-court offense isn't running real smoothly and that with the shot clock running down, three, two, one, the ball always seems to end up in my hands." That it does, sometimes because Jordan wants it there, but just as often because his teammates put it there.
Then, too, the fatigue that both Jordan and Pippen complained about earlier in the season has contributed to Jordan's sometimes questionable shot selection. Last Thursday against the Clippers, with the score tied 96-96 and the clock running down, Jordan, instead of driving to the hoop, pulled up and launched an awful three-point try that didn't draw iron, solely because, as he said later, "I was dead on my feet." The Bulls eventually won 107-105 in overtime.