After three days of hall-decking, chesnut-roasting and overall seasonal merriment, the Utah Jazz got back to playing basketball Monday night - with predictable results. If this is the game after Christmas, then it's time to play ugly.

"If you'd seen our practice yesterday, the game would have looked great," said forward Karl Malone.One can only imagine what horrors the practice entailed. In the game, the Jazz shot a dismal 40 percent, committed 18 turnovers and generally looked like they spent three days eating fruitcake and chocolate tortes. Not to worry. Minnesota - a team that has already lost twice to the woeful Dallas Mavericks - was in town. Karl Malone scored 34 points, one short of his season high, and John Stockton added 24 points, 10 assists and five steals as the Jazz coasted to a 97-93 victory.

"I'm not saying it was pretty, not by any stretch of the imagination," the Mailman continued. "But it's better to win than to lose, any time."

If short on style, the Jazz managed to make selected parts of the game interesting. Forward David Benoit checked in off the bench - after a 22-game absence due to a hamstring injury - and chalked up seven points, three rebounds and a block. Rookie Bryon Russell delivered a towering slam, four minutes into the game. And the Mailman took time out from his busy scoring schedule to slap Minnesota rookie Christian Laettner's shot into a different area code, then tell Laettner about it.

"There are times when you don't talk a lot, but there are times when they start talking, so I do too," Malone said. "Another guy starts talking, I'm not gonna be quiet."

If Malone wasn't exactly in an introverted shell, that wasn't his job. That assignment fell upon the crowd, which is supposed to snooze benignly through the annual post-Christmas affair. The Jazz's job was to play badly. Which they did. Halfway through the first period, they already had four turnovers and made just three of their first nine shots.

In a weird way, the ghastly start was entertainment enough. Felton Spencer missed a slam dunk that sent the ball soaring off the back of the rim. It brought the kind of gasp normally reserved for the fireworks display at a county fair.

Tom Chambers threw a layup off the glass without hitting the rim. Tyrone Corbin and Chambers put up air balls within three seconds of one another.

"Definitely ugly," said guard Jeff Malone, whose own contribution was a 3-for-13 shooting night. "It was tough. I felt terrible out there. I felt real sluggish."

Things didn't improve soon. While Minnesota built a five-point lead in the second quarter, the Jazz moved like the pyramids of Egypt. The Mailman missed a layup, Spencer wafted up an eight-foot air ball, the Mailman missed again on a layup and Stockton fizzled on a six-footer before the half.

The Jazz trailed by just one at the break.

A fast start in the third quarter probably averted a Jazz loss. Trailing 51-47, the Jazz rolled for nine straight points. Though the Jazz eventually lost their lead, they were back ahead by three going into the final quarter.

Benoit's return was impressive under the circumstances. He appeared off the bench in the first quarter, landing his first official shot in 1 1/2 months, on a 12-foot jumper. Moments later he deflected a pass.

Benoit's biggest moments came in the fourth quarter, with the teams tied at 74. He landed a 20-footer to put the Jazz ahead by two, then stuffed a Tellis Frank shot, leading to Stockton's baseline score. Those points set off a 15-2 run which assured the Jazz a win.

The night's entertainment included - at no extra charge - a flurry of woofs and challenges after the Mailman swatted away Laettner's shot. The block was in response to Laettner's dunk in the third quarter.

"I don't try to embarrass anyone," said the Mailman, who declined to recite his conversation with Laettner. "But when Christian dunked, he was talking and all that. It's all in fun. There are times when you don't talk a lot, but there is a time when they start talking, so I do, too."

Malone added a steal from Laettner with just over two minutes left in the game, followed by a period of arm-waving and crowd-leading. "I get excited to play anybody. But then when someone starts talking, you want to pick it up," said Malone.

View Comments

The Jazz hung on down the stretch, relying on free throws to hold the Timberwolves at a safe distance.

The win was the Jazz's 11th in 14 games and Minnesota's sixth straight defeat. Ugliness notwithstanding, the Jazz weren't complaining. They have been known to play ugly and lose big under similar circumstances.

"The coaches said this is one of those games that gives them ulcers," said Spencer. "They're concerned because this is a team we should beat, but we might not take as serious as we should."

GAME NOTES: Minnesota's Doug West didn't play due to a sprained ankle . . . John Stockton's five steals left him one short of becoming the third player in NBA history to register 1,900 in a career.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.