•Bulls over the Cavs. Cleveland does all the right things. It led the NBA in field goal percentage, free throw percentage and assists while committing the fewest turnovers. Still, the Cavs won't beat Chicago; Michael Jordan will see to that.
•Knicks over the Bulls. Chicago coach Phil Jackson remembers with fondness a player named Penny Elliot, whom he coached in the CBA. Whenever his team went on the road, Elliot would say, "We're gonna come in and eat your cheese." Well, the last two Chicago teams have been tough enough to eat cheese in Madison Square Garden, but when this season's Bulls squandered their chance at home court advantage by losing last Friday night in Charlotte, they sealed their postseason fate. Their reserve strength ("Paging Rodney McCray, please, Rodney McCray") cannot match the Knicks' (even if Pat Riley doesn't play Tony Campbell and Hubert Davis, and we don't know why he doesn't), and that will be the key factor in what is sure to be an enervating showdown.
Riley and Jackson will conjure up ways to dis each other diplomatically off the court, while musclemen from both sides (Patrick Ewing, Anthony Mason and Charles Oakley for the Knicks; Bill Cartwright and Scott Williams for the Bulls) will beat up one another undiplomatically on it. And is there any chance that Chicago's Darrell Walker will not have a fight with Anthony or John Starks or Doc Rivers or somebody in the New York backcourt? Each NBA official assigned to this one will carry a whip in one hand, a chair in the other and a book of fines tucked in his breast pocket. In the end the Knicks will prevail because of their toughness.
•Suns over the Knicks. There are lots of reasons to pick New York to go all the way. They have the coach, in Riley. They have the requisite superstar, in Ewing. They have the heart, the desire and the tenacious defense. Ultimately, though, they don't have the offense. To compare these blue-collar Gothamites with the Pistons and the Bulls, the NBA's most recent champions, is ludicrous. Both Detroit and Chicago were far superior offensively, particularly from the perimeter.
Phoenix, on the other hand, is a throwback (a throwback to the early '80s, anyway), a team that can actually run the opposition out of the gym—like the Magic Johnson-led Lakers that won championships in 1980, '82 and '85—provided point guard Kevin Johnson recovers from the sprained left knee that will probably force him to sit out at least the first round of the playoffs. Says Barkley, "My advice to anyone who thinks we have defensive problems is this: You better be ready to outscore us. And that ain't easy."
The Suns, don't forget, will be anything but wide-eyed novices in championship play. In fact, they've been closer to a title than the Knicks have in recent years. Phoenix has averaged 56 wins over the last five seasons, lacking only a true meanie in their quest to go all the way. Barkley, the new Sun god, is that player.
This is a franchise with pride and tradition. CEO Jerry Colangelo has set up an "alumni room" right next to the team's locker room in the America West Arena, and five former Suns still work for the club (Alvan Adams, Connie Hawkins, Dick Van Arsdale, Neal Walk and, of course, coach Paul Westphal). This season will supply the one missing piece in the Phoenix basketball puzzle—a championship banner.