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JAZZ SEEK 2ND-BEST RECORD IN WEST

So you scoff at the idea that homecourt advantage means a great deal in the NBA playoffs?

Consider these numbers: In the last three seasons, the team with the homecourt edge has won 36 of 45 playoff series. That's 80 percent.In playoffs involving the Utah Jazz over the past three seasons, the team with the homecourt advantage has won six of seven series.

San Antonio's victory Thursday night over the Mavericks clinched the No. 1 spot in the West for the Spurs; they have a two-game lead over the Jazz with two to play, but they also have a tiebreaker edge so Utah can't catch them.

The Jazz need one more win to clinch the No. 3 spot in the West, and if they end up with the second-best record in the West, they'd be guaranteed homecourt advantage over any team but the Spurs.

That explains why it's crucial the Jazz not suffer a letdown against the Minnesota Timberwolves, tonight's opponent in the Delta Center.

And, if the Jazz need additional motivation, there's the curious incident of the "hit" order put out on Utah forward David Benoit by Minnesota coach Bill Blair on Tuesday.

Benoit lit up the Timberwolves in that game, and Blair reportedly became frustrated and told Minnesota forward Tom Gugliotta to "hit" Benoit.

After the game, Jazz forward Karl Malone said that someone on the Minnesota bench - not a player - had said something "unprofessional" and "bush league" that would be remembered in their next encounter.

According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Malone approached Blair and said, "I'll hit one of your guys if that happens."

Blair later told the Press, "I really didn't mean that . . . I don't want to mess with Karl."

Blair would be stupid at this point to rile up Malone. The Mailman scored 32 in Minnesota, followed that up with a 45-point effort against Houston, and is playing at an incredible level right now.

The Jazz as a team aren't doing too badly, either, with different guys showing up big each night. Utah's versatility was tested Wednesday against the Rockets, who went to the kind of smaller lineup that hurt the Jazz early in the season, and they clearly passed.

"It's not so much of a mismatch anymore, when teams go small on us," said Jazz guard Blue Edwards, one of the keys to countering that tactic. "We have a lot of guys who can play different positions. If you look at teams that win championships, from top to bottom, they've very flexible."

And they usually have homecourt advantage.