The Jazz acted like they were expecting a casual Saturday afternoon outing to spice up the holidays, but somebody forgot to tell the Miami Heat. The next thing anybody knew, the Jazz were down at halftime and struggling. "The amazing thing about those guys is, they don't really care who you are," the Jazz's Karl Malone said later.
In the second half, Malone and John Stockton made their All-Star identities known and the Jazz rolled to a 117-98 win in the Salt Palace. They closed calendar '89 with a 53-28 record which, logically, means they'll finish somewhere around those numbers in April. Just to find out for sure, they'll play 54 more regular-season games.Malone collected 26 of his 33 points and 10 of his 15 rebounds after halftime and Stockton finished with 17 assists. The game-breaking run came midway through the third quarter, after Grant Long's jumper had gained the Heat a 61-61 tie.
Stockton raced the ball downcourt and assisted Bobby Hansen for a layup, and there was more where that come from: Blue Edwards' dunk of a Stockton pass, Edwards' layup, Malone's layup from Edwards and Darrell Griffith's layup after a Stockton steal. The Jazz were up by 10 and the pattern was clear. "We simply got outrun down the floor in the second half," said Miami Coach Ron Rothstein.
Rookie forward Glen Rice scored 19 for the Heat and center Rony Seikaly added 17 with one of those mixed box-score lines. He was 6 of 18 from the field and 5 of 12 from the line with 16 rebounds, which is good news for a Miami charity. Seikaly gives $10 for every rebound and $10 for every missed free throw, so he was paying big money Saturday.
The Heat, losers of six straight, will continue a long trip by spending three days in Portland before the NBA resumes play Tuesday. The Jazz will work out today but not Monday because the Players Association forbids practicing on New Year's Day, which doesn't explain why they practiced on Christmas Day. Then again, they hammered Golden State the next night, so who could complain?
The Jazz face Golden State again in Oakland Tuesday, opening a four-game trip that signals the start of the schedule's tipping toward the road. They've played 17 games at home and 11 on the road in the first two months of the season, taking a little edge off their 19-9 standing at the one-third pole. That still matches their best record through 28 games _ they were also 19-9 in 1986-87, when they faded and finished 44-38.
A record like that would be hard to imagine this season, mostly because Coach Jerry Sloan is still demanding improvement. "I don't think we're playing as well as we're capable of playing, quite frankly," he said.
"We've still got some work to do, that's for sure," noted Malone.
The only real mysteries this season are that San Antonio still leads the Jazz by one game in the Midwest Division and that Thurl Bailey is struggling again, not long after being pronounced cured.
Of the Spurs, Bailey noted, "You could look at 'em and tell they were going to be a very good team . . . it's still a long season."
That's probably good news for Bailey, who came flying out of one slump, only to find himself in another. In the last five games, he's made 13 of 41 shots (.317) and scored a total of 39 points _ this, from a seventh-year player who averaged 19.5 points last season.
Fortunately for the Jazz, Griffith scored 16 Saturday while playing 24 minutes, both season highs in an off-the-bench role. Edwards added 14 and Mike Brown had 11.
Only occasionally these days is postgame dance music played on the portable stereo in Bailey's locker.
"Oh, yes, it's frustrating," Bailey acknowledged. "You can't really let those frustrations show, because once they do, they try to take over you. When you're winning, (individuals) don't necessarily show up as much. I'm not worried or anything. I'll let you know when I get worried."
Sloan may be worried, but he's not saying much about Bailey's troubles. "That'll happen to guys," he says.
Sloan had strong opinions aboout his team at halftime, when the Jazz had lost a nine-point lead and trailed 51-49. "I thought we stopped defending 'em, to be honest," he said. "I thought they were outhustling us . . . I didn't really think we were into the game."
Things changed in the second half, when the Heat cooled off and the Jazz scored 66 points while making 28 of 42 (.667) shots. They just kept coming after taking a 75-67 lead through three quarters, opening the fourth period with Bailey's turnaround shot, Brown's drive for a 3-point play and Griffith's layups.
Just like against Portland Thursday, Malone was bottled up in the first half and took only four shots before exploding in the second half _ mostly by running on the break.
"That's where he hurt us," said Rothstein. "He outran our big people down the floor. He's great at that."
JAZZ NOTES: Sloan experimented with a Stockton-Delaney Rudd backcourt in the fourth quarter, a scheme that could work against teams that play two small guards while cutting more into Griffith's playing time . . . In case you're wondering, the Jazz did have another sellout crowd for the afternoon game, extending their season-long streak . . . The New Year will come without a groundbreaking for the Jazz's new arena, but owner Larry Miller is still targeting an October 1991 opening as he works to finalize a financing package.