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JAZZ SEE BIGGER, BETTER 1989-90 SEASON
UTAH WILL BE LOOKING TO REPEAT AS NBA’S MIDWEST DIVISION CHAMPS

SHARE JAZZ SEE BIGGER, BETTER 1989-90 SEASON
UTAH WILL BE LOOKING TO REPEAT AS NBA’S MIDWEST DIVISION CHAMPS

The Jazz's disappointing, first-round playoff loss to Golden State last May clouded their best season ever.

Before running into the hot Warriors, the Jazz posted a 51-31 regular-season record, breaking the NBA's magical 50-win barrier for the first time while winning their second Midwest Division championship. Karl Malone was the only unanimous selection on the official All-NBA team and was named the most valuable player of the 1989 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, where he joined teammates John Stockton and Mark Eaton on the winning West team.This season, the Jazz are looking for even bigger and better things. Their key players are moving into the prime times of their careers, while several young players show signs of developing into dependable reserves.

Up front with Malone and Eaton, the Jazz have a small forward who's close to all-star level in Thurl Bailey. Veteran Mike Brown and second-year players Eric Leckner and Jose Ortiz provide depth.

In the backcourt with Stockton, they have the combination of Bobby Hansen and Darrell Griffith, along with the promise of first-round draft choice Blue Edwards. Second-year guard Jim Les will try to keep his job of backing up Stockton, amid competition from second-round draft choice Junie Lewis and others. To replace veteran forward Marc Iavaroni, the Jazz are auditioning four players - any of them will make the Jazz quicker and more athletic on the front line.

In the wake of their playoff exit, the Jazz did not panic. The front-office leaders and coaching staff know they have one of the best teams in the NBA, a team that has not suffered a losing season since 1982-83. So the Jazz come back virtually intact this season, looking to repeat as Midwest Division champions. With a schedule calling for nine of the first 11 games in the Salt Palace, the Jazz are hoping a fast start will launch them into first place to stay.

Coach Jerry Sloan proved himself last season by going 40-25 after Frank Layden's surprise retirement in December. With assistant coaches Phil Johnson, Gordon Chiesa and David Fredman and player personnel director Scott Layden, the Jazz have one of the top coaching staffs in the league. Their challenge for 1989-90: keep improving, and play better in the playoffs. Entering the 1980s, the Jazz were a struggling team as they moved to Salt Lake City. Entering the '90s, the picture has changed considerably.

Last year was a good example of the move forward.

The Jazz recorded the most wins in franchise history, compiling a 51-31 record on their way to winning the Midwest Division for the second time. They also established franchise records for home wins (34) and most road wins (17), and for the first time in team history went the entire season without a losing month.

The Jazz boasted the top defense in the league, allowing opponents just 99.7 points per game, a franchise record and lowest in the NBA since 1982-83. They also held the opposition to a .434 field goal percentage, lowest in the league since the 1973-74 Milwaukee Bucks held their opponents to .425. And for the second straight year Stockton went over the 1,000 assist mark, compiling 1,118. It was a good year for the Jazz, but a bigger, better one is expected this season.