The New Jersey Nets that NBA fans have come to know and love over the years were back at work Friday night in the Delta Center, looking more like they did in the old days.
Whatever happened to the old, incompetent Nets, anyway? In the 11 games prior to meeting the Jazz, they'd won eight. But this time they were back to some familiar tricks, shooting 39 percent, giving up inside baskets, throwing away passes - and losing.Meanwhile, Jazz guard Jeff Malone was off on one of his shooting streaks, making 13 of 17 shots as the Jazz routed the Nets 117-96.
While the Jazz were busy abusing the Nets, it wasn't a totally happy affair for the home team. Coach Jerry Sloan and forward Blue Edwards had angry words during the third quarter, and Edwards found himself sitting on the bench.
Afterward, Sloan considered the matter a familial spat, while Edwards fretted about being traded.
"I was just a little upset with him and he was a little upset with me," said Sloan. "It's about like would happen with one of my kids, I guess. I didn't think he was doing what he should and he thought he was doing what he should and we had a difference of ideas."
The matter came to a head with 8:37 left in the third quarter after Edwards' man, New Jersey's Chris Morris, got inside for a rebound basket. Sloan pulled Edwards from the lineup and the two had angry words. Edwards sat out the rest of the quarter but returned to score nine points in the last quarter.
But Edwards indicated he was more concerned about job security than anything else. At first he said he said he didn't want to comment on the dispute with Sloan. But asked if the matter was resolved, he replied, "I don't know."
"There's a lot of rumors going around about my not being here - people want to get rid of me. I don't know how true it is," he said.
Edwards continued, "Those kind of rumors bother me, but my job is just to go out and play basketball."
Considering the roll the Nets have been on lately, the Jazz didn't really know what to expect. New Jersey lost eight straight games before the All-Star break, but then won eight of 10 soon after. Last week the Nets won four straight, beating Portland, Detroit, Boston and New York.
"That team used to struggle," said Jeff Malone. "They would do a lot of bad things on the court. But now they're doing a lot of good things. They're going to improve."
The Jazz had an easy time establishing themselves early, though. Halfway through the first period they were up 18-10. By the early second quarter the lead was up to 40-25.
The quick lead was the result of the Jazz landing everything they threw up. Jeff Malone made six of his first seven attempts and 13 of his first 15. Karl Malone made his first four tries.
Naturally, the Jazz had problems living with their early prosperity, after moving ahead by 15 before the break. The Nets began going inside, outscoring the Jazz 10-1 early in the second quarter, and soon had the lead down to four.
Utah got rolling again, scoring seven quick points, and ended up leading by nine at the half.
The outcome was academic as the third quarter progressed. Utah built its lead to 91-75 by the end of the quarter, outscoring the Nets 7-1 down the stretch.
The lead got as high as 28 points in the final period, and the Jazz had the luxury of playing reserves David Benoit and Isaac Austin the whole quarter.
Jeff Malone finished ith 27 points in just 31 minutes while Karl Malone added 25 in 23 minutes. Derrick Coleman's 18 was high for the Nets.
Having won three games straight, the Jazz now will concern themselves with two things as they approach Sunday's game at Denver: beating the Nuggets and smoothing things over with Edwards, whose contract expires this summer.
"If a player's not doing the job, you've got to get him started somehow," said Edwards of his nine-point fourth quarter. "Maybe that's what got me started."