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NBA VOTERS BELIEVE IN MAGIC AS MVP AWARD IS ANNOUNCED LAKER TIPS JORDAN IN TIGHTEST TALLY IN 8 YEARS

Magic Johnson knows timing is everything, especially when it comes to being named the NBA's most valuable player.

The Los Angeles Lakers guard won his second MVP award Monday when he outpolled Chicago's Michael Jordan, who has taken theunderdog Bulls to the conference finals with seven games of 40 or more points, in the closest balloting since 1981.

Johnson, currently trying to lead the Lakers to their sixth NBA crown since he joined the team in 1979, received 42 1/2 first-place votes and 664.5 points from a nationwide panel of 85 media representatives who voted before the playoffs began.

Jordan received 598.8 points, including 27 1/2 first-place votes.

"It's definitely special when you consider the people . . . and the man who would, because of the playoffs, probably win it if the voting was now," Johnson said, alluding to Jordan.

Following Johnson and Jordan in the voting were Karl Malone of Utah, 362 points and five first-place votes, Patrick Ewing of New York, 200 and eight, and Akeem Olajuwon of Houston, 179.3 points and two.

Charles Barkley of Philadelphia was sixth with 94.3 points, followed by John Stockton of Utah, 28; Kevin Johnson of Phoenix, 22; Tom Chambers of Phoenix, 20, and Mark Price of Cleveland, 18.

The balloting for the winner was the closest since Julius Erving edged Larry Bird, 454-423, in 1981.

The voters selected five players, in order, with points awarded on a 10-7-5-3-1 basis.

Johnson was also MVP in 1987. He finished third behind Jordan and Bird in the voting a year ago, but led the league this season with 17 triple-doubles -- double figures in points, rebounds and assists in a game -- and in free throw percentage at .911.

He shot .509 from the field, becoming the only player other than Bird in NBA history to shoot 90 percent from the line and 50 percent from the field in the same season.

Suns look to break Forum jinx

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- The Western Conference final resumes tonight (10:30, WTBS) with the Los Angeles Lakers seeking a 2-0 lead and the Phoenix Suns trying to break an 18-game Forum losing streak.

"It is not imperative for a split (of the first two games)," said Chambers of the Suns. "It's early, but it would be nice."

The two-time defending champion Lakers squandered a 16-point lead in Saturday's Game One, but rallied for a 127-119 victory. Los Angeles is 8-0 in the postseason and its string of 10 consecutive playoff triumphs over two seasons is a league record.

"We feel we can break through here," Phoenix guard Jeff Hornacek said. "We have to if we are going to win this (best-of-seven) series. We've only played here four games (this season). Everyone is saying the Suns haven't won here in about five or six series, but that has nothing to do with us."

The Lakers did a relatively good job defensively in the opening win against the Suns, and James Worthy, who led Los Angeles offensively with 32 points, said he and his teammates need to continue to play tough defense.

The series moves to Phoenix for Games Three and Four. The Suns defeated the Lakers three times this season at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, by 10 points or more each time.

Pistons look for wake-up call

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The Detroit Pistons see it as a wake-up call. The Chicago Bulls see it as a chance to return home with a 2-0 lead.

"If we had played our worst game and lost, that would be more disheartening than this was," Detroit guard Joe Dumars said. "Sometimes you need a jolt. I think our intensity and everything will pick up from here on out."

True, the Pistons didn't play their worst game Sunday in losing, 94-88, in the opener of the Eastern Conference final. But they were bad enough. The Bulls bolted to a 24-point lead and held on in the fourth quarter.

The series resumes tonight (8:05, WTBS) at the Palace, and if the Bulls win they go back to Chicago in supreme shape.

"We've been motoring on all cylinders and maybe this will put a little fear in our hearts," said Detroit's Mark Aguirre.

Sonics take Bulls' pick

SEATTLE -- Seattle has exercised its option to switch draft picks with the Chicago Bulls in the upcoming NBA draft, Sonics President Bob Whitsitt announced.

Along with having their own pick in the 17th slot, the Sonics also have the 18th pick. Chicago previously sat in the 18th position, but will now have the 20th selection.

Seattle gained the right to switch draft picks with Chicago in the Olden Polynice-Scottie Pippen deal made on draft day in 1987.

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