After cleaning up on two of the West's heavyweights last week, the Jazz are continuing about their business like a runaway truck in the neighborhood. Warning to the Minnesotas and Sacramentos of the world: The Jazz are taking no prisoners. They don't care how awful you are or how bad your luck.
Sunday night at McNichols Arena, the Jazz swamped the sorry Denver Nuggets, 112-88. The win came on the heels of consecutive wins over Golden State, San Antonio and New Jersey. It appears the Jazz have served notice that along with the contenders, now the bad teams (i.e. New Jersey and Denver) can expect the Jazz to come at them with malicious intent."It's quite commonplace to overlook teams that aren't doing well," said Jazz forward Blue Edwards, "but we're keeping our intensity and becoming a good team."
The Jazz will get little argument from anyone they met in the last week. Tuesday night, they crushed Golden State, 123-101 and followed up with a 102-93 Wednesday over the Spurs. Given the Jazz's history for playing down to their competition, trouble was on the way: New Jersey and Denver.
But the Jazz never flinched. They smashed the Nets 117-96 and followed it up with an easy win over Denver.
The way the Jazz have been playing lately, their worst problem is trying not to hurt anyone's feelings after the game. "We really don't consider anybody a bad team," said Karl Malone diplomatically. "But for us to play well all the time is important."
Considering the condition of the sorry Nuggets, it would have been hard to lose under any conditions. Friday night against the Pistons, All-Star center Dikembe Mutombo took an elbow in the back and was listed as questionable to play against the Jazz.
But Mutombo was only one of Denver's concerns. The Denver papers are filling up with columns and letters predicting - or advocating - the ouster of Coach Paul Westhead. One fan wrote in to the Rocky Mountain News, indicating he'd love to take an English lit class from the philosophical Westhead, but didn't want him coaching the team.
In the same issue, a story detailed how a part-owner was urging the team's majority owner move the Nuggets out of Denver.
Most of the Nuggets' problems, naturally, can be traced to their abysmal record. The loss to Utah was their ninth straight and 11th in 12 games.
"We got off to a good start," explained Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan. "We had a good run defensively and that just seemed to set the tone for the ballgame."
As much as anything, the contest in the middle between Jazz center Mark Eaton and Mutombo set the tone. In the first period Eaton chalked up four blocks. Meanwhile, the 7-foot-2 Mutombo had the rare experience of looking up at someone.
The matter was decided early, with the Jazz going ahead 16-2. By then the Nuggets knew their only hope was for the power to go out - which it did. A furious snowstorm hit Denver just about tipoff time. Sure enough, 51/2 minutes into the game, during a timeout, the lights went down.
To the Nuggets' chagrin, they came back. (Which is more than you can say for the Nuggets.)
While the Jazz were building up the early lead, Denver made only five of its first 21 shots. "This team was just not making their shots and we weren't giving them a lot of second chances," said Sloan.
In part due to Eaton, who had six blocks for the game, and in part due to his sore back, Mutombo was never an offensive factor. He took only three shots, missing all. "It was hard for me to go 100 percent today," he said. "I knew (going in) it was kind of 50-50 today."
With Mutombo neutralized, the chores fell on the rest of the Nuggets. Todd Lichti and Mark Macon came off the bench to provide 16 points apiece and Marcus Libety added 15.
But none of their points came soon enough or fast enough, as the Jazz got the lead up to 20, let it drift down to nine, and then moved it to 25 in the third quarter.
Although the Nuggets came as close as 14 points behind in the final period, it was all over. Far before the final horn sounded, teams had their substitutes in and the arena was as empty as
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an afternoon movie theater.
Karl Malone's 23 points was high for the Jazz, while Jeff Malone added 20. Every Jazz player scored points.
The Jazz's newfound intensity against sad opponents will get another true test in their next game, Thursday at Sacramento. Last time they played, the Kings took a 100-98 win at Arco Arena.
"We've got a long way to go," Sloan warned.
But if they go at full speed, he may even enjoy the trip.
GAME NOTES: Karl Malone needs four rebounds to reach 6,000 for his career . . . The Mailman has made 80 of his last 92 free throw attempts . . . Tyrone Corbin and Mike Brown have played well off the bench lately. Corbin has eight points, 12 rebounds and a steal in the last two games. Brown has 19 points and 13 rebounds in the same span . . . David Benoit had a fine 11-pont, five-rebound night against Denver . . . The storm that shut off the lights in McNichols Arena also knocked out KSTU-TV's satellite link and only the last six minutes of the game were televised locally.