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JAZZ TRADE UNLIKELY AS DEADLINE LOOMS

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The NBA trading deadline is Thursday at 7 p.m. (local time), and Scott Layden says he can't completely rule out the possibility of a last-minute deal involving the Jazz.

"That would be foolish because you never know," said the Jazz's director of basketball operations. "We continue to talk (with other teams) but it's not likely anything will happen."(Probable Translation: The Jazz aren't actively shopping anyone, but would be open to the right offer - say, Hakeem Olajuwon for Greg Ostertag.)

Asked if he thought the Jazz are a title-caliber team, Layden said, "My stock line to that always is . . . you've got to stay healthy and you've got to get a little lucky. If those things happen, you've got a chance. Last year I thought we were hurt by injuries . . . and then we had bad luck in the draw."

The injury that hurt the Jazz most was the one that knocked out center Felton Spencer for the season - a loss compounded by the fact Utah met up with the world's best center in the first round of the playoffs.

"We got bitten twice," Layden said.

While acknowledging that the Jazz have room to improve, chiefly by getting people healthy, Layden said, "We're very happy with our team. We feel really comfortable with the offseason moves we made, and we have a deeper team than we've ever had."

Layden noted, however, that there's always the chance some team will call with an offer they can't refuse. "The (Jeff) Hornacek trade was made five minutes before the deadline," he pointed out.

HE'S SANE: Karl Malone has a lot of interests. He's said on various occasions that he'd like to try building buildings, demolishing buildings, acting, pro wrestling (yes, those last two are redundant) and being a motorcycle cop - just to name a few - someday, but he definitely ruled out one possible career: bull riding.

He spent some time at the rodeo in San Antonio during All-Star weekend, and said his favorite event is bull riding. Asked if he'd like to try it, he said, "I thought about it, but as quick as I thought about it, it went away. I don't know what those guys get paid, but it's not enough."

QUOTEBOOK: Dallas coach Dick Motta, after watching the Jazz outplay his young team down the stretch of a close game: "I wish we could get to the way the Jazz run their offense. We're probably two years away from that."

More Motta, on Mavericks' need for an inside force: "There isn't a Karl Malone out there, but we need a Karl Malone."

Ex-Jazzman Eric Murdock of the Vancouver Grizzlies, on what he learned as John Stockton's understudy: "I've used some of his values in my game today. I watched the things he did off the court - his eating habits, his mannerisms, his professionalism. I tried to emulate a lot of the things he did off the court."

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, asked if it surprised him to get tossed from a recent game in Dallas: "I'm surprised everytime I get tossed. It's an even bigger surprise when you get your paycheck."

STAT STUFF: Only one of the Jazz's last 14 opponents has shot better than 50 percent from the field, and that was the Mavericks, in that double-overtime loss in Dallas. In five of the six games prior to that - and three of those were losses - Utah's foe shot 50 percent or better.

Who's Hot: In the last 15 games, David Benoit has shot 52.3 percent from the field. In his last 11 games, he's shot 48.5 from the three-point line. Malone is shooting 58 percent in his last five. Stockton is at 56.1 percent in the last five games.

Who's Not: Jeff Hornacek has shot 38.7 percent in his last three games, 28.6 from the three-point line. Keefe is 6 of 17 (35.3 percent) in his last three. In his last 16 games (which dates back to mid-December), Chris Morris has shot 22.2 percent (10 of 45) on three-pointers.