Jordan on NBA title: 'I believe we can win'

Associated Press
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls will repeat as NBA champions, Michael Jordan says, even if Dennis Rodman and Toni Kukoc aren't fully recovered from injuries.

Michael Jordan
"I believe we can win with what we have," Jordan said. "By no means am I going to go in worried if they're healthy or not. I go in with the idea that they can give us something, and something's better than nothing, and that can make us a better team."

Rodman and Kukoc both expect to be ready by Friday night, when the Bulls open their best-of-5 first-round series against the Washington Bullets at the United Center.

Rodman, the NBA's leading rebounder for the sixth consecutive season, has missed the last 13 games because of a sprained knee ligament. Kukoc, the league's top reserve last year, was sidelined the final six weeks by tendinitis in his foot.

Both are supposed to work out Tuesday, when Chicago returns to the practice floor after taking two days off. The Bulls ended the regular season Saturday by losing to New York, giving them defeats in three of their last four games and costing them a second straight 70-victory season.

"Seventy sounds better than 69, but either way you put additional pressure on yourself," Jordan said. "If you win 70, you're expected to win the championship. If you win 69, I'm pretty sure the expectations are just as high. It's only a number."

The Bulls finished 69-13 after going 72-10 in 1995-96.

"What you need to realize is that this team played undermanned for much of the season," coach Phil Jackson said, "and it catches up to you."

Jordan said the Bulls must recapture the chemistry they had in late February, when they were healthy and on pace to win 73 games.

"We know it's not going to come back in one practice, two practices, maybe not even in one game," said Jordan, who averaged 29.6 points to win an unprecedented ninth NBA scoring title. "It's going to take time, but hopefully not too much time."

Jordan and Scottie Pippen, the only players still on Chicago's roster from the Bulls' 1991, 1992 and 1993 championship teams, need to "motivate some of these players who never had to defend anything," Jordan said.

"Defending is the most difficult thing you have to do in athletics," he added. "As captains, we have to sometimes push -- more now than last year, because it's easy to lose a certain part of that edge. It's human nature to have less motivation. Somehow we have to push to gain it back.

"Scottie and I ... know how much tougher it is the second time."

Because of the injuries to Rodman and Kukoc, Jordan and Pippen had to play more than Jackson wanted them to. Jordan, 34, ended up with 3,106 minutes, his most in six seasons. Pippen, 31, played 3,091, almost a career high.

Jordan, however, said he won't be tired going into the playoffs.

"I'm pretty excited," he said. "I can't wait."

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