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SLOAN SHOCKED BY JAZZ’S SLUGGISH PLAY

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The next day, the Jazz's Sunday night showing against Phoenix was still a mystery to Coach Jerry Sloan. "I was totally shocked by the way we played," Sloan said.

In an unusual move, Sloan screened a videoptape of the game for his players before Monday's brief practice at Westminster College. Sloan could live with the Jazz's missing shots and struggling to score in a 105-87 loss in Game 2 of the best-of-five playoff series, but not playing hard? That's another story."It's hard for me to understand sometimes why your intensity's not there when you've had a day's rest," he said. "The energy level should be high . . . we're talking about seven or eight guys. That's the toughest thing to put my finger on, as to why."

The Suns' victory evened the series and gave them a chance to end the Jazz's season by winning Games 3 and 4 Wednesday and Friday in Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

"It makes life tough for ourselves," said the Jazz's Bobby Hansen.

While Sloan's players defended themselves against the charges of not competing in Game 2, they agreed with some of his observations.

"Not being ready to play is a lot of different things; it's not all necessarily (lack of) effort," said John Stockton.

"Not coming out and running the game plan - that killed us more than anything," noted Mark Eaton. "From then on, it was helter-skelter."

That means too many outside shots, which brings us to the Jazz offense. Using Sloan's logic, Stockton blames the offensive troubles on the other end of the floor. "When we don't defend, we're worthless," he said. "They score, and then they can't wait for you to come down so they can bang you and force you into bad shots."

The Jazz took plenty of those Sunday, when they shot .382 from the field and Karl Malone's struggle continued. In the middle of the season, Jazz coaches came up with twists to prevent double- and triple-teaming of Malone by having players cut through the lane. Lately, the plan has broken down and Malone is forcing shots. In the game at San Antonio for the Midwest Division title and the two playoff games, the Mailman has shot 6 of 19, 8 of 20 and 7 of 21 and scored 20, 21 and 20 points. This, from a player who shot .562 from the field this season and averaged 31.0 points.

So who's to blame? Malone, for taking bad shots? Other players, for not making shots to take pressure off him? The offense, by now thoroughly scouted?

"I did it all year long inside, and now it's not happening," Malone said. "I'm willing to take responsibility."

No doubt, the Suns will keep sending two or three defenders at Malone. But unless something changes in Phoenix this week, the heat on the Mailman will only last two more games.