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Jerry Sloan, the Jazz's conservative coach, is suddenly turning his outside shooters loose this season. Well, at least a little bit, to use a Sloan expression.

The Jazz are leading the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage, but the light is not completely green. "Under the right conditions," is Sloan's caution.Still, all this is a departure from last season, when Sloan stopped just short of banning the bomb. "It's one thing to take 3-point shots, but it's when you take 'em," he explained. "There's a difference between good shots and bad shots."

Entering tonight's Salt Palace game against Portland, the Jazz are shooting .405 from beyond the circle, which would be an NBA record it if holds up for the last two-thirds of the season. Cleveland (.385) is also ahead of the '86-87 Celtics' record pace and is the league's most prolific 3-point team.

Taking six 3s a game, the Jazz are on a team-record pace for attempts, although they're only in the middle of the league in that category. Against Golden State Tuesday, the Jazz broke team records by making 8 of 16 3-pointers.

Is Sloan losing control, or what? "I would just say he's realized how important the shot is this year," says Darrell Griffith, the NBA's 3-point king before people like Michael Adams and Danny Ainge came along. "The line's out there for a purpose - you might as well utilize it. He's giving us the confidence to take the shot, instead of second-guessing it."

Bobby Hansen and John Stockton are among the league's 3-point percentage leaders this season and are close to matching their previous highs for successful 3s in a season.

"They just have come to me," says Stockton.

"(Sloan's) encouraging us more to take it," notes Hansen. "It's fun - the crowd likes them."

Sloan's guidelines: Take the shot only after running down the 24-second shot clock and passing the ball in and out a couple of times. He'll always take a Karl Malone inside move over a 3-pointer, and wants to make sure center Mark Eaton can change ends before the shot goes up and everybody's running past him in the other direction.

Through 26 games, the 3-pointer has played a major role in Sloan's offense as one sure way to open things up for Malone. And as a born defender, Sloan knows how demoralizing the 3 can be to a defense that's worked hard for 20 seconds to deny an inside shot.

The question is, will Sloan still allow the 3s when the success rate starts falling? "I don't think it'll go down, if we stay within what we're trying to do," he said. "I think they know where I'm coming from."


(Additional information)

Bombing away

The Jazz's 3-point shooting:

Player FG-FGA Pct.

Bobby Hansen 29-63 .460

John Stockton 14-28 .500

Darrell Griffith 13-42 .309

Delaney Rudd 6-15 .400

Karl Malone 3-5 .600

Blue Edwards 2-10 .200

Nate Johnston* 1-1 1.000

Eric Johnson 0-1 .000

Thurl Bailey 0-3 .000

Totals 68-168 .405

* - No longer with team, but stats count toward team totals.