It may only be four games into the season, but to Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan and his team, it seems like forever. The long exhibition schedule and the season-opening trip to Japan made it seem more like mid-February than early November.

They are already becoming too familiar with airports, hotels and, maybe, each other.As a result, Sloan gave his team a rare day off, Friday. "These guys have been together for nine million days," said Sloan. "They deserve a day off practice. They haven't had a chance to get away from each other, having been on the road.

"Actually," continued Sloan, "you have some of the same feelings around these guys that you might have after 48 or 50 games."

Said center Mark Eaton, "It seems like we've definitely seen more of each other than we have of our families."


DANGEROUS LIASONS: They say the NBA is a rough place to go to work. Just ask referee Phil Mihalak.

During the opening weekend of the season, Mihalak was minding his own business, officiating the Sacramento-Portland game last weekend, when he suddenly felt like Buster Douglas on his way to dream land. During one play, Trailblazers' star Clyde Drexler went up to block a shot by Sacramento rookie Lionel Simmons. After the block, Drexler slammed into Mihalak, who was thrown face-first to the floor, sustaining a bloody nose.

The official wasn't seriously hurt, but he did get a reminder of just how rough the NBA is . . . for everyone involved.


NOT IMPRESSED: Considering the Denver Nuggets and their Atari approach to basketball are 0-5 so far, it stands to reason that not everyone would think Coach Paul Westhead has both oars in the water.

Among the skeptics is former NBA Coach Alex Hannum, who said - before the season even began - "I think solid pro will meet the challenge of that crap-a-doodle with ease."

The trick for Westhead may not only be to win games, but to handle the crap-a-doodle he gets from other doubters.

Hannum isn't alone. San Antonio's David Greenwood joined the ranks of critics following the Spurs' 163-151 win over the Nuggets last week. "I would be surprised to see Denver win over 10 games this year playing that way," he said.


CAN YOU SAY RENAISSANCE MAN: Eight-year NBA veteran Mark McNamara isn't a particularly talented NBA player, but you have to give it to a guy who can do more than one thing.

Besides playing basketball, McNamara, who was traded last week from San Antonio to Orlando, is a professional-level beach volleyball player. That's just the start. He is also an avid reader and is fluent in four languages. He even learned some Servo-Croatian last year so he could communicate with teammate Vlade Divac in Los Angeles. Also on his resume is some acting experience. McNamara appeared in "Return of the Jedi" as a wookie.

Now, if he could only figure out how to make free throws . . .


MONEY MATTERS: In an era of skyrocketing salaries and soaring egos, come these observations from a couple of mega-millionaires. Asked how it felt to be 28 years old and worth $19.2 million, L.A.'s Sam Perkins replied, "Before or after taxes?"

Chicago's Michael Jordan's pragmatic reply to the $8 million salary Clyde Drexler will earn in his final season: "What's $8 million going to be worth in '95? I'd rather have the cash now."


FAMILY PRACTICE: If Golden State's Sarunas Maciulionis can't find the range on his jumper, he may want to check for it at home.

His wife, Inga, is playing junior college basketball at California's Merritt College and is, according to her coach, Fred Brown, "the best pure shooter I've ever coached, male or female."

The 5-foot-11 Inga, a guard on the Merrritt women's team, made seven straight three-pointers in the team's preseason scrimmage.


ADD TRAVEL: A final word on the Jazz's strenuous November road schedule: it's fine with the Mailman.

After being hounded by Jazz fans for his poor shooting last Thursday night at the Salt Palace, Karl Malone took the criticism matter-of-factly. However, that doesn't mean he has to like it.

Asked after the game if he was glad to be home, he replied tersely, "No. I'm ready to leave."