Secure the lifeboats. Lower the distress flag. Cancel the S.O.S.
The ship is not sinking.The Utah Jazz made it abundantly clear Tuesday night that their loss to the lowly Clippers and coach Jerry Sloan's abrupt stoppage of practice Monday were not signals of imminent distress.
They made it clear via a 114-92 thumping of the Seattle SuperSonics, a team that came to the Delta Center having won seven in a row. The victory put the Jazz a game ahead of the Sonics (dead-even in the loss column) in the race for second-best in the Western Conference.
After praising his team's defense and intensity, Sloan acknowledged that the extra day off probably helped.
"I think that these guys needed a rest," he said. "But I also think they got a chance to think about basketball a little bit away from it. Sometimes when you are with it all the time you can't see anything."
"We had a lot more energy than we did the last couple of games," said Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek.
For the Sonics, it was simply a bad time to come to Salt Lake. The Jazz have bounced back every time they've appeared to hit rock-bottom, and it doesn't get much more rockier-bottomed than a loss to the Clippers.
"We got back to doing things the way we have all year," said Jazz forward Adam Keefe. "We played really well defensively, which got our offense going."
The Sonics hit four of their first 15 shots en route to a 40-percent quarter, while the Jazz fired away at a 56.5-percent clip. Utah jumped out to leads of 12-4, 19-6 and, at the buzzer, 37-17. Hornacek scored 12 in the period, Karl Malone 10.
"The first quarter we didn't shoot the ball well, got some good looks but didn't finish," said Seattle coach George Karl. "You don't beat a great team doing what we did."
In addition to the hot start, the Jazz never had any serious lulls. The Sonics tried to get back in it at the start of the second quarter, using their low-post offense with Shawn Kemp, Sam Perkins and Ervin Johnson to pull within 12 at 43-31. But Malone, who had been on the bench during that run, re-entered and scored seven points in a 12-0 Jazz run.
The Jazz were a little sluggish again to start the third quarter, getting outscored 9-2, but they regrouped before the Sonics could make serious headway. In the fourth quarter, Utah's lead was never less than 16.
"Utah beat us, spanked us, kicked our butts, and they've been doing that to a lot of teams," Karl said. "We didn't rise to the challenge of a big game."
The Sonics, who were as deep as any team in basketball at the start of the season, are suddenly a lot less loaded. Temperamental guard Kendall Gill was put on indefinite medical leave Tuesday, suffering from clinical depression, and they were already without center Bill Cartwright (elbow surgery) and Vincent Askew (foot injury). That essentially leaves the Sonics with six guys who were playing a lot of minutes the first half of the season.
The bench differences were significant. Utah's subs outscored Seattle's, 45-29, again underscoring the fact that when the Jazz's bench is good, the Jazz are good. Antoine Carr hit nine of 10 shots for 20 points, Adam Keefe had six points and eight rebounds, and rookie Jamie Watson - filling in for Blue Edwards, who took a knee to the calf - made five of five shots for 11 points, his first time in double figures since Feb. 1.
It was Carr's first 20-point effort since Jan. 23, and he owes some of the credit to Seattle defenders that kept leaving him open for jumpers.
"They were doing a lot of trapping, leaving guys open," the Big Dawg said. "And I don't think they respected my jumper that much."
But while the bench was important, it was Malone who set the pace. Coach Karl opened the game with Johnson on the Mailman, trying to keep Shawn Kemp out of foul trouble, but Malone scored on Johnson, and Kemp, and Perkins, and just about anyone in a Sonics jersey. The Jazz's leading scorer finished with 31 points (11 of 13 shots), 17 rebounds and seven assists.
Hornacek also had a solid game, seven of 11 shots for 20 points, and John Stockton finished with 11 points, 13 assists.
Sonics point guard Gary Payton tried to carry his team but got little help. He finished with 26 points and six assists, and the low assist total can at least partly be blamed on the team's 40.2-percent shooting. Four other Sonics finished in double figures, but none of them shot 50 percent from the field. Kemp had nine rebounds.
The Jazz next play another hot team, the Los Angeles Lakers, on Friday at the Forum.
GAME NOTES: The last time the Sonics played here, the first-quarter score was Utah 30, Seattle 9 . . . Seattle's Dontonio Wingfield tallied a rare "trillion" - a boxscore line of 15 zeros . . . Utah's David Benoit continues to have shooting problems (3 of 10), though he did grab seven rebounds, four on the offensive glass.