Last year the Jazz's big problem going into the playoffs was their old nemesis, the Phoenix Suns. A perennial playoff team, the Suns seemed to always be in the Jazz's way. This time it's a different story: the youthful exuberance of the L.A. Clippers, a team that hasn't seen a day of playoff basketball since 1976.
Asked which is more dangerous - playing an experienced playoff team or a young, enthusiastic one - Jazz coach Jerry Sloan wouldn't say. "What is dangerous is if you don't come to play," he said. "This is a very good team. They've got guys who have been in the playoffs and guys who haven't."Then he added, "What difference does it make? You've still got to compete."
Asked the same question, Karl Malone first replied, "I don't know." But then added, "I've gotta say this: They haven't been there and we have. But they don't have any pressure. Anything they do in the playoffs has to be a plus for them."
Normally a filling station for quotes, the Mailman is keeping a low profile as this year's playoffs approach. His response to a several of questions this week has been simply, "I'm looking forward to playing them."
After answering one question that way on Wednesday, a reporter said, "You said that yesterday." His reply: "And I'm saying it again today."
However, he did elaborate later by saying, "We feel really good about ourselves. We're playing really good. We're in as good shape as we've ever been. We have no excuses. If we don't do it, it's our own fault."
For earning the second-best record in the Western Conference - winning a tiebreaker with Golden State - the Jazz team splits the $90,000 playoff pool money. Meanwhile, teams participating in the first round receive $58,750 each.
Should the Jazz win the NBA title, players and staff would split $680,000.
The versatile Clippers present some serious problems for anyone. Danny Manning can play any front-line position. Charles Smith can play center or forward. Kenny Norman can play either forward position and Ron Harper can play forward as well as guard.
Yes, matchups could be a problem for the Jazz.
However, the Mailman says the Clippers have their own problems to deal with. "All the talk is about how we match up with them," he said. "They need to worry about how they match up with us."
Agreeable as Sloan usually is, he isn't inclined to play along with hypothetical questions. Asked this week by a reporter about "talk on the streets" that the Jazz would sweep the series with L.A., he replied, "I don't hear that (expletive). I guess I'm not out on the street enough."
Although the Jazz are basically injury-free, the Clippers have a few minor problems. James Edwards fell during Tuesday's practice and strained a rib muscle. He is expected to be ready for Friday's game. Meanwhile, forward Loy Vaught has been suffering from a jammed toe, which was originally thought to be broken. He, too, should be ready against the Jazz.