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Veteran Bulls fans have seen scoring like Durant’s
by Sam Smith
Posted on Jan 29
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The Bulls will take second billing Wednesday in San Antonio because they are following the best ongoing story in the NBA.
Chicago open its Western Conference road trip against the Spurs on national ESPN following Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City visiting Miami in the faceoff of the top two contenders for league MVP. And it’s Durant edging ahead of LeBron James on what is being celebrated as an historic scoring roll with 11 consecutive games scoring at least 30 points, including five of at least 40 points and averaging 38.5 per game in this stretch.
It has been impressive with the Thunder taking over the Western Conference lead even with Russell Westbrook out injured and coming off Durant’s latest game-winner in Monday’s win over the Atlanta Hawks.
The Bulls have their own challenge as well facing the Spurs, who have the second best record in the Western Conference. Though the Spurs have been stumbling some of late, losing their second straight for the first time this season Tuesday against Houston and now 1-11 against the top teams in the league. That obviously doesn’t include the Bulls. But the Spurs lost Manu Ginobili to a hamstring issue in Tuesday’s game, joining injured Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter. That has had former Bull Marco Belinelli in the Spurs’ starting lineup.
The Bulls will get back Joakim Noah from illness for the game as Noah also awaits a potential call to be added to the Eastern Conference All-Star team in results to be announced on TNT 6 p.m. Thursday. It would be Noah’s second consecutive appearance. Kirk Hinrich is not expected to play Wednesday with his hamstring injury.
So the Bulls and Spurs hope to make it a worthy follow to the Thunder and Heat.
Though a word of caution before everyone gets too excited about all this: Been there, seen that.
Forget Wilt Chamberlain, who once averaged 50 points per game for an entire season. He was Babe Ruth hitting more home runs than the entire league combined in the early 1920’s.
But if you have been watching Durant with shock and awe, then you can get a better understanding of what it was like watching Michael Jordan.
Because those of us in Chicago have seen this Durant run, though we’ll call it a Jordan Junior.
Doug Collins, who was Jordan’s coach from 1986-87 through 1988-89, is in San Antonio to broadcast the Bulls/Spurs game. He marveled at Durant’s scoring as well, agreeing it’s problematic to stop Durant’s shot.
Just like it was against Jordan, though Jordan was probably a half foot shorter.
“But with Michael,” Collins laughed, “there were times I wanted to get him to score less and he still averaged more than 30.”
Collins pointed to Jordan’s run of 10 triple-doubles in 11 games toward the end of the 1988-89 season. The Bulls had been slumping, losers of three straight and four of six in a season in which they would make their first run to the conference finals in 14 years.
Jordan was ill and missed a trip to Boston, where the Bulls lost badly. On the team’s return, Collins called Jordan in to discuss a position change. Point guard Sam Vincent was ineffective and to try to produce more varied offense, Collins said he discussed with Jordan moving to point guard with shooter Craig Hodges to play off him. Jordan readily agreed as Magic Johnson, regarded as the league’s most versatile player, also had chided Jordan as a scorer who could not play all the elements of the game.
Jordan would show him as well as straighten out the team.
The Bulls went on to win nine of their next 11 games immediately after the switch. And about three weeks later, he started a run with the 10 triple-doubles in 11 games in which Jordan averaged not only 11.4 assists and 10.8 rebounds but 33.6 points with three straight games of at least 40 points.
Though if you wanted scoring, Jordan would show you scoring.
Jordan had his 63-point game in the playoffs in 1986. And then fully healthy to open the 1986-87 season, he assaulted the record books like no one since or other than Chamberlain.
After scoring 50 points on opening night in a win in Madison Square Garden, the Bulls were 7-4 after losing the opener of their November Western Conference road trip. It has long been one of the most difficult stretches of the season. And if anyone in that conference wondered if Jordan was back, he had a message.
Jordan scored 41 points in Los Angeles. Then it was 40 in Golden State where he’d broken his foot the year before and 40 in Seattle. Then 45 in Utah and 43 in Phoenix. Then 43 in San Antonio and back home to beat Denver with 40.
The Bulls then went back on the road for two games, and it was 41 in Atlanta and 41 in Milwaukee. And these were strong, playoff level Hawks and Bucks teams in that era. Jordan, by the way, jumped center in that win in Milwaukee with the Bulls going with a small lineup to counteract Don Nelson’s trapping defenses.
The streak ended the next game, also against Milwaukee, when Jordan took a hard fall in the first half, hurting his hamstring and scoring just 11 points. But Jordan returned the next game and scored 41 points in each of the next two in a season in which Jordan averaged 37.1 per game, the first player since Wilt with more than 3,000 points in a season.
No offense to Durant, who is an amazing scorer. But he’s got a long way to go to join that elite Bulls company.