The Associated Press
DEERFIELD, Ill. Ä Michael Jordan used to call them ''my supporting cast.''
They were Jordan's teammates, good enough to help him and the Chicago Bulls win NBA championships in 1991, 1992 and 1993, not nearly good enough to take the title without the retired Jordan in 1994.
Jordan is now five games into his second tour of duty. And by all accounts, his supporting cast is not as good as it was during the championship era.
Tuesday, the Bulls needed 55 points from Jordan to beat New York 113-111. Had the Knicks not bricked 10 second-half free throws, they would have won despite Jordan's virtuoso performance.
''I hope I won't have to score 55 points every time,'' Jordan said after yesterday's practice. ''Last night, it was offense. (Tonight against Boston at home), it might be something else. I've always been able to make up where the team is lacking.''
In the game's first half, Jordan scored 35 points on 14-of-19 shooting to keep Chicago close. His teammates: 15 points, 4-of-17, 10 turnovers.
''It was a great game,'' Bulls coach Phil Jackson said. ''They played as well as they could. And we played Ä at least Michael Jordan played Ä as well as I've seen him play. It was officially the culmination of his return to the game.''
Still, there's the underlying, nagging question:
Is Jordan's supporting cast good enough to help Michael win another title?
''Four or five years ago, there were some dominant teams, so I don't think we would have had a chance,'' backup guard Steve Kerr said. ''But with the league now, we have as good a chance as anybody. Right now, we have a lot of confidence. We have Superman on our team.''
Three of Superman's steady sidekicks Ä Bill Cartwright, John Paxson and Horace Grant Ä left the Chicago squad after last season.
Instead of Cartwright, who contained some of the league's best big men at playoff time, the Bulls have a center-by-committee system. Will Perdue is an offensive liability whom Jackson left off last season's playoff roster. Luc Longley is foul-prone. Slow-footed Bill Wennington has defensive deficiencies.
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