For a last flurry in the Mailman's MVP Campaign, the Jazz meet the Los Angeles Lakers tonight on national television (TNT cable) in the Salt Palace. With ballots on the way to the NBA office at this very moment, Karl Malone figures to finish in the MVP pack behind some combination of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley.

Which makes the Mailman wonder: What does a guy have to do?"If you look at the numbers, you would think I had a really good shot at winning," Malone suggests. "It's something I don't understand."

Mostly, Malone should blame teammate John Stockton. The Jazz have won a franchise-high 52 games, and Malone will become the ninth member of the NBA's 30-10 club - he's averaging 31.2 points and 11.1 rebounds. Malone modestly describes his season as "the kind of year people just don't have." Still, the question voters have to ask is, where would he be without Stockton?

Partly because of that issue, the Jazz are not promoting Malone or Stockton for the MVP award. They also shelved the annual Chamber of Commerce awards banquet, originally planned for Wednesday, in hopes of avoiding any in-house dissension.

At the first Chamber dinner in 1988, Stockton was named the team's MVP in voting by the players, and Malone was unhappy. Last spring, team officials had newspaper readers vote for the awards and announced Malone and Stockton as co-MVPs.

This year, Coach Jerry Sloan had his way with team officials, and the program was canceled, even though, as Sloan noted, "I like to eat."

Explained Sloan, "I've never liked awards in those things. That causes problems on your team. You lose perspective of what this thing is all about - it's such a team game."

The Jazz players, meanwhile, are clearly pleased no voting for the team MVP is in their hands. Chances are, the voting between Malone and Stockton would still be split, because what's changed two years later? Stockton is maybe less of a novelty now, but he's still making Malone look good.

One player said of the league MVP race, "I just can't believe John is not being considered."

Campaigns for the NBA's postseason awards are hardly like the Heisman Trophy contest, a year-round promotional derby. The Jazz, however, have tried their share of gimmicks over the years - sending voters items such as Mailman hats, Thurl Bailey "T" shirts and soft drink cans with players' pictures and a cardboard puzzle. While vice-president David Allred guesses that promotion helped Mark Eaton win the '88-89 Defensive Player of the Year award, the Jazz publicity people backed off this season.

"The guys were getting some good credibility on their own," Allred said. "We have, to some extent, moved to a new stage. We're not struggling for recognition."

A Patrick Ewing brochure distributed by the Knicks is the only promotional item making the leaguewide rounds this spring.

Asked if he'd welcome campaign help from the Jazz, Malone said, "You'd figure they ought to know already."

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In the Heisman race, a player's chances can be destroyed with a poor or average performance on national television. In that case, Malone would have no shot. In the Jazz's two CBS appearances, he had 19 points and six rebounds in a 115-83 defeat at Detroit and 25 points and six rebounds in a 119-103 loss to the Lakers. After the Detroit game, Malone stormed, "The hell with exposure . . . If we haven't got it by now, we're never going to get it."

On the Jazz's only TNT broadcast before tonight, Malone had 24 points and seven rebounds in a 114-103 loss at Atlanta.

Just the same, the voters certainly know about Malone. The NBA's voting system is designed to avoid regional bias, with three voters from each league city making up most of the 85-member media panel. Malone still claims that "politics" will keep him from being the MVP. Malone told the L.A. Daily News, "If I worked in New York City or L.A., maybe (an MVP award) would be a fact already."

Instead, the Mailman is working in Utah - with one of the league's best guards. But playing with Stockton, not his mailing address, is Malone's chief MVP drawback.

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