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JAZZ DUO IN '96 OLYMPICS? WHY NOT, THEY SAY

Karl Malone and John Stockton want more gold.

The Jazz's superstar duo have said they would welcome an opportunity to compete for the United States at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.In basketball, of course.

"I don't want to campaign, but if they picked me, I'd consider it an honor and a responsibility to go," Stockton said.

Malone, asked why he'd want to be an Olympian again, said, "I haven't done it in our country before. Who wouldn't want to go to the Olympics again?"

There are those who have suggested that the members of Dream Team I and II had their shot, but Malone disagrees.

"All the people that say `You're selfish, let someone else go,' forget 'em," he said. "They're just jealous 'cause they can't go."

Stockton emphasized that there has been no contact between he and the U.S. Olympic Committee, and he's not sure where all this Return of Dream Team stuff came from.

"Where the rumor started, I have no idea," he said.

(Tip: Check with Magic Johnson's press agents.)

Malone's and Stockton's former Dream Teammate, Christian Laettner, said after Friday's Jazz-Timberwolves game that he'd also enjoy being an Olympian again.

"If I'm chosen for something as nice as the Olympics, obviously I'm going to do it," he said.

ANOTHER VOLUNTEER: Dallas rookie Jason Kidd is making a late rush at Rookie of the Year, and is being mentioned as a possible Olympian.

Kidd reportedly was genuinely dejected when told Magic Johnson might play in '96, saying, "there goes one of my spots."

Kidd then suggested an Olympic lineup of himself, Grant Hill, Glenn Robinson, Juwann Howard and Brian Grant. Kidd said, "Shoot, we could send a team in '96 of guys that are rookies now and win it."

EARLY LOOK: Here's the results of a straw poll of 12 NBA writers (if the numbers sometimes don't add up, it's because some didn't vote for certain categories - trouble following directions, apparently):

MVP - Robinson 10 votes, Stockton and Malone, one vote each.

Rookie of the Year - Grant Hill (Detroit), 6 votes; Kidd 4; Glenn Robinson (Bucks), 2.

Coach of the Year - Del Harris (Lakers), 5 votes; Jerry Sloan (Jazz), Mike Fratello (Cavaliers), and Dick Motta (Mavericks), 2 each; Bob Hill (Spurs), one vote.

NBA Finalists - East: Bulls, 4; Pacers and Knicks, 3 each. West: Spurs, 6; Sonics, 3; Suns, 1.

Champs - Spurs, 5; Bulls, Sonics and Suns, 1 each.

Most Improved - Dana Barros (Sixers), 5 votes; Allan Houston (Pistons), 3; Rik Smits (Pacers), Scott Burrell (Hornets), Elliott Perry (Suns), Georghe Muresan (Bullets), one each.

Sixth Man - Anthony Mason (Knicks), 4 votes.

Defensive Player of the Year - Scottie Pippen (Bulls), Hakeem Olajuwon (Rockets) and Dikembe Mutombo (Nuggets), 3 votes each; David Robinson, 1.

Executive of the Year (which writers don't vote on) - Jerry West (Lakers), 3 votes; Scott Layden (Jazz), Donnie Walsh (Pacers), Greg Popovich (Spurs), Bernie Bickerstaff (Sonics), and Jerry Colangelo (Suns), 1 each.

Five writers sent in their All-NBA teams, and Stockton, Malone, Pippen and David Robinson were on all of them.

BOLD TALK: This may be one we want to review in a week or so: Charlotte center Alonzo Mourning says he's tired of people who have said, ever since Michael Jordan's return, that the Hornets have no chance against the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs.

"Everyone's saying, `Oh, you don't want to play Chicago, you don't want to play Michael Jordan.' Hey, we've beaten Chicago several times with Michael Jordan. He's a great player and everything. He may be the greatest player ever. But he can't score but so many points by himself. They have a talented team, don't get me wrong, but we have a talented team, too, and we have homecourt advantage."

ON THE TABLE: According to one player rep, this is what the NBA players are going to ask for: a salary-cap increase from $15.9 to 27 million, a limit on rookie contracts to three years, a decrease in the draft to one round and the end of restricted free agency.

Is that all?

FADING SHAQ: According to reports out of Orlando, Shaquille O'Neal hasn't exactly been making a late charge at the MVP award. In the last few weeks he's been disappearing in the fourth quarters of games on a regular basis. In a nationally televised loss to Miami, for instance, he and the Heat's Glen Rice were nearly even heading into the final period. Shaq scored four points from that point, Rice 19.

In a nine-game stretch ending with that game, Shaq scored a total of 39 points in the fourth quarters.

"It's tough to score when they're grabbing both your arms," said Magic coach Brian Hill.

The usual solution to that problem is to make free throws, but O'Neal went 5-for-20 in fourth quarters of 10 straight games.

QUOTEBOOK: Charlotte forward Kenny Gattison, after missing two crucial free throws in closing seconds of a one-point loss, asked if the foul shots felt good when they left his hand: "It NEVER feels good when it leaves my hand. Dell (Curry), his free throws feel good. Mine, I just hope they go in."

Indiana's Reggie Miller, after making 21 of 62 shots (33.9 percent) in six-game stretch: "I'll never be in a slump. Reggie Miller in a slump? Never."

Reggie Miller in denial? Yes.