All of a sudden, the Jazz have only three exhibition games left. "It'll be showtime pretty soon," says veteran guard Darrell Griffith.

Coach Jerry Sloan obviously knows. In Wednesday night's 111-103 loss in the Dee Events Center to a Portland team missing Clyde Drexler and Jerome Kersey, Sloan acted like this was the real thing. Karl Malone played 41 minutes. Only one young point guard, rookie Eric Johnson, appeared in the game. The roster duel between forwards Raymond Brown and Jose Ortiz? Brown worked four minutes, Ortiz none.And this comes with two roster decisions to be made next week.

"I've got to get our guys ready to play," Sloan explained.

The Jazz now go on something resembling a genuine NBA trip, after which they'll have three practice days before the Nov. 3 regular-season opener against Denver. They'll meet Boston in Cincinnati Friday night, Portland at Oregon State Sunday and Phoenix at the Huntsman Center Monday.

Ready or not . . .

"I like what I see, I really do," Malone said of the 2-2 Jazz. "Some guys need to get on the ball, and I think we're going to be fine. We've got to get something from some guys - they know who they are."

The Mailman is probably not counting himself, after finishing with 28 points and 12 rebounds. Or John Stockton, who led a third-quarter rally and also scored 28, 21 of those in the second half when he made 10 of 13 shots.

Just about anyone else was a suspect, in one way or another.

As they did against Atlanta in the Salt Palace Saturday, the Jazz struggled in the first half. The Trail Blazers (4-1) took a 60-45 lead and generally had their way inside, while the Jazz kept casting from outside.

When Stockton and Thurl Bailey heated up in the third quarter, the Jazz cut the lead to 79-76. They came no closer in the fourth quarter, as their trapping defense chalked up more fouls than turnovers and left too many openings.

"We went to the well probably too many times," Sloan said.

The Jazz still had a shot after two Bobby Hansen baskets left them down 105-102 in the last minute, but Kevin Duckworth scored easily inside and Danny Young later made two clinching free throws for the Blazers.

Portland's effort was impressive, coming off an overtime loss to Indiana in Boise Tuesday. The Blazers also lost all four regular-season games to the Jazz last year, which will mean a lot more when they meet in the Salt Palace Dec. 28 than it did Wednesday.

In this case, The Chicken entertained, 10,845 showed up and nothing really counted, except personal exhibitions.

With Drexler and Kersey having the night off, this was the Blazers' rookie review. While the Jazz's Blue Edwards scored nine points in another decent outing, Portland showed off guard Byron Irvin and forward Cliff Robinson. A second-round draft choice, Robinson delivered 18 points and 10 rebounds. Irvin, drafted immediately after Edwards in June, added 16 to go with Terry Porter's 17.

"I gave them a lot of minutes, and they responded," said Coach Rick Adelman.

For the Jazz, this was Eric Johnson Night in the point-guard competition. Jim Les and Joe Hillman, who stayed on the bench, will have their turns next. Johnson had two points, three assists and four fouls to show for his 14 minutes, causing Sloan to observe, "I thought he did OK."

Johnson's self-review: "I can't really say how I played."

That's the preseason for you, where the rookies wonder and the veterans count the days until Opening Night. "We've got a veteran team, so that makes you a little more comfortable," said Griffith, who was having a strong preseason until going 0 for 6 from the field Wednesday. "Then again, with a veteran team, you want to be a little further along."

Next week, we'll really find out where they stand - and remember, they've lost the last seven season openers.

"We have to get off to a fast start," said Malone, reminded of the Jazz's favorable November schedule. "We can't lose a home game."