Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 29, 1998

Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / April 29, 1998

Rare is the opportunity to see sports history unfold. But that is exactlywhat is happening during this year’s NBA playoffs.

An era is perhaps coming to an end, a dynasty could be seeing its last days in the sun. If, as has been much discussed, Michael Jordan announces hisretirement after this season, the look of the NBA will be much different starting with the 1998-99 season than it has over the last decade.

If Phil Jackson is not retained as coach of the Chicago Bulls and Jordan and Scottie Pippen leave, the race for the NBA championship is thrown wide open in the years to come.

The NBA is used to dynasties. Since the early 1980s, only six teams -Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago and Houston – have won a championship with the Bulls having won five of the last seven. The onlytwo years they did not win, No. 23 was hanging in retirement at the startof each season.

But the age of the dynasty may be coming to an end in the NBA. Name onedominant team in the league right now. The Pacers, Supersonics, Lakersand Jazz, to name a few, have all made a run at that title this year but could not maintain consistency. All have stars on their squads but have notbeen able to maintain the high level of play set down by their champion predecessors.

The race for the next great team in the league begins in this year’s playoffs. The Bulls have already shown signs of being vulnerable, narrowlyescaping New Jersey in their first two games at home. Now teams musteither take advantage of that vulnerability or find out that the Nets have just awaken a sleeping giant.

No team has really taken a step forward yet. Miami, Phoenix, Seattle andUtah have each lost at home. Utah, the team that holds home-courtadvantage throughout the playoffs on the basis of having the best record during the regular season, lost to the Rockets by 13 on its home court to start the playoffs. Miami blew out New York by 15 in the first game onlyto lose to the Knicks by 10 in the second game at home.

Miami and Indiana are the two teams that could give the Bulls trouble in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Both have players who are playoff-hardened and both have coaches, Pat Riley and Larry Bird, who know how to deliver in the clutch.

In the Western Conference, the demarcation line between the best teams is less visible. The Jazz, Supersonics and Lakers have all shown signs ofbrilliance this year.

Throw in San Antonio with David Robinson and rookie of the year Tim Duncan; Minnesota, an up and coming team; and Phoenix and you have the makings of a pretty good set of games. And do not forget about Houston,who might be the most dangerous team of all now that they are starting to get all their players back from injury.

The prediction here is that Chicago will make one more run at the title, winning the Eastern Conference half of the bracket.

The Jazz will bounce back from their first loss in the playoffs and win the Western half, combining with the University of Utah to make this a memorable year on the banks of the Great Salt Lake.

The Jazz will go one step further than the Utes, defeating the Bulls in six games to capture their first championship.

And then what happens is anyone’s guess. A year from now, Iowa Statecoach Tim Floyd could be in Chicago, Jackson in New York, Pippen in L.A.and Jordan on an 18th tee somewhere. And the NBA will be searching forits next great dynasty to take it into the next millennium.

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