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Knicks 103, Bulls 101

April 20, 1997

CHICAGO (AP) _ Getting the No. 3 Eastern Conference seed was important to the New York Knicks. For the Chicago Bulls, failing to get their 70th win was more disappointing than they thought it would be.

The Knicks finished the season Saturday night with a 103-101 victory over Chicago, earning the right to avoid the defending NBA champion Bulls until the Eastern Conference finals _ if either gets that far.

``We had to win this game,″ said John Starks, who hit a big 3-pointer with 40.8 seconds left. ``We didn’t want to give up that third seed.″

But Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy wasn’t as outwardly thrilled.

``I think anybody is making a mistake if they’re thinking beyond round one,″ he said. ``The East is so deep this year, we’re going to have our work cut out for us.″

The Knicks will meet either Charlotte or Detroit in its best-of-5 opening round series, set to start Thursday.

The Bulls, meanwhile, ended 69-13 after going 72-10 last season when they became the only team to break the 70-win barrier. For months, they had downplayed the significance of getting 70 again, but reality set in Saturday after the chance to make history was lost.

``Seventy sounds better than 69,″ said Michael Jordan, who scored 33 points but put some of the blame on himself for committing four turnovers and missing four free throws. ``We had an opportunity to win 70. It’s a little disappointing, but we’ve got through a lot with injuries.″

Said center Luc Longley: ``I’m real disappointed we didn’t win 70 again. We certainly expected to. We’re proud that we won 69 with all the injuries, but I’d like to be able to say that I’ve got two 70-win seasons.″

Chicago, which lost three of its final four games, expects to have Dennis Rodman and Toni Kukoc back from injuries in time for the playoffs, which start Friday against Washington or Cleveland.

``It’s money time, time to defend what is ours,″ said Rodman, who missed the last 13 games with a knee injury. ``I’m ready to go. It’s time to party.″

The loss also snapped the Bulls’ 32-game home winning streak and prevented them from matching the 1985-86 Boston Celtics’ 40-1 home record. Chicago also had a chance to tie the Celtics last season but lost to Indiana in its home finale.

Patrick Ewing capped a 27-point performance by making a 10-foot jumper from the left baseline with 1:16 to go for a 100-99 lead. After Jordan missed a 15-footer, Starks hit a 3-pointer after picking up a loose ball.

Chicago’s Scottie Pippen made two free throws with 37 seconds left but badly overshot a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

``We stepped our defense up,″ said Ewing, whose team trailed by 14 points in the second quarter and nine in the fourth. ``We made Michael work for everything he got.″

Allan Houston had 25 points and Starks 20 for the Knicks, who had lost their last 11 games at Chicago. They had gone 0-8 at the United Center, which opened in 1994.

``It’s important because you need to know you can win on their home court,″ Starks said. ``And you need to let them know.″

Jordan wrapped up an unprecedented ninth NBA scoring title, averaging 29.6 points, but it was the first time in those nine seasons that he failed to average at least 30 points per game. The only other times under 30 were his rookie year (1984-85, 28.2 points), his broken foot season (1985-86, 22.7) and his comeback-from-retirement campaign (1994-95, 26.9).

Chicago led most of the way, but the Knicks used a 9-0 run to make it 85-85 with 7:13 to go. Houston had five points during the surge.

A 3-pointer by Starks put New York ahead 90-89 with 5:36 left, its first lead since the third quarter. Jordan’s short jumper gave the Bulls a 97-94 lead with 2 1/2 minutes remaining. Starks countered with a reverse layup and Houston hit a 20-footer for a 98-97 New York advantage.

Jordan’s 17-foot jumper put the Bulls ahead for the last time, 99-98 with 1:32 left.

Notes: The last time New York had won in Chicago was on April 24, 1994 _ the final regular-season game at old Chicago Stadium. ... The Bulls have played the Knicks in their regular-season finale four times and have lost all four. ... Masters champion Tiger Woods sat courtside and received a loud ovation when introduced. He spent some time before the game chatting with golf fanatic Jordan in a kind of Nike Ultra-Endorsers Confab. The rumor was that Jordan and Woods would go golfing Sunday somewhere in the Chicago metro area. ``Michael thinks he’s good,″ teammate Ron Harper said, ``but Tiger will kick his butt.″

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