Although there was considerable temptation among media members to pick the young L.A. Clippers to beat the Jazz in this first-round series, others weren't buying it.
San Francisco writer Bruce Jenkins was one who predicted - before Friday's game - the Jazz will win."It's suddenly very cool to like the Clippers, to rave about the genius of Larry Brown, to call this team the `sleeper' in the playoffs," he wrote.
"The Clippers had to improve under Brown. They'd never had a coach with such presence or command. Get off the bandwagon and take a hard look:
"They still have Gary Grant in the backcourt, Doc Rivers has never been a winner. Buffed-out Ken Norman remains his own biggest fan. And Ron Harper, despite Ervingesque talent, will only break your heart in the end."
Unlike previous games involving the Jazz and Clippers, there was little trash-talking and woofing going on in Friday's game. Karl Malone says that is because he doesn't want to get involved in such chicanery.
"What is important," the Mailman said, "is for us to believe in ourselves and not get ruffled by what anybody does or says."
Asked if anything was done or said to get him "ruffled" on Friday, he replied there wasn't. "But you know it's gonna happen sometime before the series is out."
Overlooked in Friday's 29-point performance by Jeff Malone was his holding explosive Ron Harper to 12 points. Harper, a career 19.5 scorer, averaged 18.2 this year. But he only got off 11 shots against the Jazz, making five.
"One of the main things people underestimate is Jeff's ability to play defense," said the Mailman. "And Jeff made Harper play defense by scoring so much. Jeff doesn't get the credit on defense he deserves."
Although Jeff Malone said last week that if the Jazz win the first two games against the Clippers "we'll be OK," - meaning they'll be on the verge of claiming the series - he says he doesn't want to come back to Salt Lake to play after Sunday's game.
"Sunday is crucial," he said. "If we win that, we can go down there (to L.A.) and relax and be free. But that doesn't mean we won't try to win down there, though. If we lost both games down there and had to come back here, you never know what could happen."
However, even in that event, he is confident the Jazz would prevail on the court where they only lost four games during the regular season. "It would take a great team effort to beat us in that building," he said.
The Clippers' Charles Smith says he is impressed with the Olympian combination of Stockton-to-Malone.
"John gives him the ball in the split second before Karl is supposed to turn," said Smith. "It's an amazing tandem."
Smith went on to say the reason the pair is so effective is that Stockton is a phenomenal passer and Malone is so quick that he sets up on the blocks (the low post) with remarkable speed. When he gets there, Stockton has the ball waiting.
Asked what can be done to stop it, Smith grinned. "Try your best to defend it."
Stockton's 21 assists against the Clippers was three shy of his NBA playoff-game assist record of 24 . . . Smith on what it was like to watch the game film of Friday's loss to the Jazz: "Like a funeral." . . . Clippers' coach Larry Brown on the Jazz: "Everybody talks about the problems Utah had in the post-season in the past. But this is a different Utah team. They have learned from past experiences."