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MALONE AND STOCKTON DELIVER: JAZZ PAIR LEAD THE WAY IN WEST'S 135-132 WIN

If ever there was any doubt about whose house they were playing in, the Jazz's Karl Malone and John Stockton put it to rest early. Four minutes into the game, there was Stockton, his assists multiplying like the federal deficit. There was the Mailman vanity dunking off the break.

The 43rd annual NBA All-Star Game closed out Sunday night at the Delta Center as only the hometown crowd would have it. Malone and Stockton, the Jazz's own superstars, were named co-MVPs as the West took a 135-132 overtime victory over the East, Sunday night at the Delta Center."I think if you were writing a movie, and having the game in Utah, it was great," said the Mailman. "But I think you also have to give coach (Paul) Westphal a lot of credit, because I don't know how many times he ran that `34.' He ran it to death."

Ah, yes. Good old 34. With just one practice before the annual NBA extravaganza, teams rely on simple plays. Thus, Westphal went heavily with No. 34, the Stockton-to-Malone entry pass to the low post. "I stole it from Jerry (Sloan)," said Westphal.

Four minutes into the game, Stockton already had five assists and a 3-pointer on his scorecard, and the Mailman had an 11-foot baseline basket and a slam-dunk. "That John Stockton won't pass to nobody but Karl Malone," joked West teammate Charles Barkley.

But Westphal was hearing none of the talk about the MVP award being cooked up by the NBA office to mollify hometown fans. "These guys are good. They would have won the MVP even if the game wasn't here. Stockton is the best point guard, and Malone is maybe the best power forward," said Westphal, taking into consideration Barkley sometimes plays power forward, too. "The people in Utah were rooting for them, and that may have helped them play their best, but they would have been MVP's no matter where the game was."

The game's blast-off had all the telltale signs of another made-for-television extravaganza. Players were announced amid a dazzling laser light show. The national anthem was sung by recording stars Boyz II Men. But once the game began, it was obvious the fans were far more excited to be there than most of the players.

"I don't ever take this serious," said Barkley. "I just have fun. Oh, I might be serious the last couple of minutes, if it's close. If not, I'm on spring break."

Though Stockton and Malone were rolling early, it was obvious most of the All-Stars were on a break of their own. The West led 27-26 after one period, but had already committed six turnovers. (The game starts when, coach?)

Barkley was laughing his way down the court, mugging for the cameras as he went. The guards on both teams were busy throwing lob passes inside for crowd-pleasing dunks.

"Defense?" said Barkley. "I never play defense."

"I think there was better defense played in this game than some games we've (the Jazz) been playing," observed Malone.

The teams remained close throughout the third period as the East's shooting improved. Guard Mark Price was dropping shots in like B.B.s in a rain barrel, landing three straight 3-pointers.

"That one end of the court was really good for me taking the 3-point shots," said Price. "That's where I took the 3-points to win the shootout last night, and I was able to make some at the end today."

Finally, as the game moved into the final period, the game took on a more serious tone. Price upped his streak of 3-pointers to six. Michael Jordan was, at last, shooting with serious intent, like he was bending over an eight-footer for par. And with 5:14 to go, Malone and Stockton returned to finish up the script.

The Mailman made one of two free throws to give the West a 107-104 lead. Stockton shortly added two free throws and the race was on. Jordan scored eight of his game-high 30 points in the last 4:22 of regulation; Price landed his last trey of the night; and Ewing made a baseline jumper to tie the score at 119 and send the game into overtime.

"It seemed like a comfortable lead at the end of the game," said Stockton. "But then it evaporated."

"When I hit those shots at the end of the game I was just in the right place at the right time," said Ewing. "Michael was able to get the ball to me and I was able to hit the shots."

With Malone and Stockton closing on the MVP Award, the West pulled ahead to stay. Stockton made a 20-footer and added a three-pointer in overtime to give the West a 131-125 lead. The East finished up calling timeouts and taking desperation long shots.

"Everyone was playing hard," said East center Brad Daugherty, "and when it went into overtime, it was exciting for the fans."

"Both teams were having fun," said East forward Larry Nance, "but we all really wanted to win the game."

As the final horn sounded, and as the crowd began to roar, Malone and Stockton were called to mid-court. Malone finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds, while Stockton had 15 assists and nine points. Jordan's 30 points was high for the East.

Commissioner David Stern announced Stockton and Malone would share the MVP honors and Malone gave a heart-felt tribute to his fans. "I say thank God for these fans here in Utah. Everyone should have what we have," Malone said.

Meanwhile, teammates good-naturedly kidded their colleagues from Utah. "They shouldn't give it to Karl - he has one. He doesn't need two. They should have given it to John," teased Barkley.

But this was Utah, and there was no little doubt the honor would go to one - or both - of the Jazz's adopted sons. "If not," smiled West teammate David Robinson, "maybe we wouldn't have made it out of town alive."