The Utah Jazz may be in first place in the Midwest Division, but the Houston Rockets made it clear Friday night that they still consider themselves world champions.

Houston dominated play down the stretch in posting a 111-103 victory over the Jazz at the Delta Center. In the fourth quarter, while the Jazz were clanking their way to a 39.1 percent shooting effort, the Rockets shot like champs, hitting 62.5 percent."We're right back in the hunt, right back there fighting for first place," said Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich.

The Jazz naturally downplayed the significance of this early season meeting with the reigning titlists.

"It's disappointing, but guys played hard," said Utah's Karl Malone. "It's not the end of the world."

The loss puts an end to the Jazz's eight-game win streak, but guard Jeff Hornacek said that was not a big deal, either.

"One game doesn't mean anything," he said. "We keep winning eight in a row and losing one, I'll take that."

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan agreed that it wasn't that big a game, but he was a little upset that his team didn't play hard at the start. The Jazz fell behind 33-26 in the first quarter, as Houston's Vernon Maxwell and Robert Horry combined to knock down five three-pointers, including Horry's 35-footer at the buzzer.

Perhaps as a result, certain Jazz starters got to spectate through much or all of the second quarter. Spencer didn't play at all, Hornacek was in for the final minute, Malone played two minutes.

With the subs - and John Stockton - on the floor, the Jazz staged a big second-quarter comeback. Antoine Carr generated some enthusiasm, Tom Chambers generated some points (10 in the quarter), Maxwell earned a second technical foul (for going after Chambers) and said "adios" for the night, and Utah went on a 26-10 run to lead 55-51 at halftime.

In the third quarter, the Jazz got a little sloppy. They went up by 10, 61-51, then let the Rockets creep back into the game.

"We made a lot of silly fouls in that third quarter," Sloan said. "I thought we panicked a little bit."

All those "silly" fouls put Houston in the bonus with nine minutes left and gave the Rockets the chance to attempt 13 free throws (they made 12) in the period.

Ultimately, though, Utah's biggest problem was not having enough centers to guard Hakeem Olajuwon. Two Jazz big guys - Carr and Spencer - fouled out trying to stop the Rockets' MVP; Spencer did it in a mere 12 minutes.

The Rockets' offense is simple: Toss it in to Olajuwon, who shoots if the Jazz don't double-team quickly enough, and if they do double-team, he kicks it back out for a wide-open three-point shot. And, of course, him being such a frail sort, the officials make certain no one roughs him up.

"You can't stop him if you can't touch him," Carr said.

The Jazz could neither touch him nor stop him. He scored 37 points, on 12 of 25 from the field and 13 of 17 from the free-throw line. He also had 12 rebounds and seven assists, mostly to Pete Chilcutt, the other tower in the Rockets' latest Twin Towers incarnation.

OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but Chilcutt did make a difference in this game, especially in the fourth quarter. With the Rockets up 96-92 and 4:43 left to play, the Jazz bottled up Olajuwon inside, only to have The Dream whip it out to Chilcutt on the arc. The 6-11 forward swished it.

Less than two minutes later the Jazz had clawed to within three again, at 101-98, when Robert Horry knocked down another open three. The closest the Jazz got after that was five.

And while the Jazz made all the right statements about this being just one game, they didn't look like it had been just another night at the playground. Malone was particularly terse. "They're a great team," he said. "That's all. That's all I've got to say."

Carr had a little more on his mind. He even suggested that some players need to re-evaluate things. "I think a few people - I'm not going to say any names - should take a real good look at themselves."

Malone was Utah's high scorer, with 25, and rebounder, with 14. Stockton scored 17 but missed nine of 15 shots. Chambers finished with 14, Hornacek 13 and Bryon Russell 12.

Of Olajuwon's supporting cast, Maxwell led with 16 points (in 18 minutes), Horry totaled 13, and Chilcutt and Kenny Smith each had 10.

The Jazz get three days to think about this one before resuming action Tuesday here against Milwaukee.

GAME NOTES: David Benoit missed another game with that ankle sprain. He's wearing a cast and said it comes off Monday for another look. Jay Humphries did not play; rookie Jamie Watson was the backup two guard and committed back-to-back turnovers to open the second quarter . . . Utah outrebounded Houston 45-35, but the Rockets made eight more free throws - the winning margin, by the way.