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HOME MALONE: JAZZ RETURN TO HOST GAME 3

On the basis of experience, the San Antonio Spurs know they can win in the Delta Center.

They did so twice during the regular season, by margins of one and seven points.In neither of those games, however, did the Utah Jazz play as well as they played in Games 1 and 2 of this series, in Texas. Despite that fact, the Spurs say they feel confident heading into Game 3 today (1:30 p.m.).

"Psychologically, we know we can win there," said Spurs coach Bob Hill. "We've had success there. Psychologically, that's a plus. You're looking at two teams that are evenly matched. When a team goes into another building with consistency, it's a plus, but you still have to go and do it."

The Spurs may feel they have a psychological edge, but the tenor of this series should cause them some concern. For one thing, the Jazz accomplished what they needed to do by winning one in San Antonio, and with three minutes left in Game 2 they were down by a mere two points. If a couple of calls are different, the Spurs could easily be looking at an 0-2 deficit.

For another thing, numbers always seem to balance out in this league, and San Antonio's astonishing 65-15 free-throw advantage isn't going to prevail. It won't reverse - that would be even weirder than the original lopsidedness - but it won't continue, either.

While agreeing that the free-throw differential bordered on the bizarre - heck, Spurs center David Robinson shot 30 free throws in the first two games, twice as many as the entire Utah team - the Jazz acknowledged that they didn't try to take the ball inside as much as they should have.

"We had a lot of success early with jump shots, and we stuck to it," said Utah's Adam Keefe. "There's no mistake we weren't as aggressive with the ball as we needed to be."

"We need to pound the ball inside more," said Jazz forward Bryon Russell, who surprised everyone (except himself) by hitting seven of nine three-pointers in San Antonio.

Utah's Karl Malone did shoot a lot of jumpers in Game 2, when he attempted exactly zero free throws for the first time since 1991, but still, the guy played 41 minutes and he was in there rebounding.

Besides, as Malone pointed out (not for the first time), if teams choose to give him good looks from 15 feet, as the Spurs often did, he'll take the shot.

"Every (jump) shot I took, with the exception of a couple, I was wide open," he said.

And a couple of Jazzmen pointed out that they expect Spurs guard Avery Johnson's physical assault on John Stockton to be looked on with less leniency in Salt Lake.

"We know it's going to be a constant battle," said Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek, "but now that we're home we should shoot a few more free throws."

If nothing else, there were signs that the gloves came off in Game 2 and these teams are ready to engage in a physical series, and that could favor a deeper, more aggressive team like Utah.

"We have to get that us-against-the-wall attitude," Malone said.

"It's going to be a dogfight from here," said Jazz forward Bryon Russell, who has surprised everyone (except himself) by knocking down seven of nine three-pointers in two games.

The Jazz say the Spurs didn't show them anything remarkably different in Game 2.

"They ran some different things," Stockton said. "Mostly they just executed what they wanted to do really well."

All the Spurs have to do to go back on top in this series is to win one game, which would leave the series even with two of three games to be played in San Antonio.

"They have the homecourt (advantage) now, so we have to take it away from them," Robinson said

GAME NOTES: Jazz forward David Benoit didn't practice Friday. He's still suffering from a bruised knee and hasn't played since Game 5 of the Portland series.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Jazz vs. Spurs

Game 1: Utah 95, San Antonio 75

Game 2: San Antonio 88, Utah 77

Game 3: Saturday, May 11 San Antonio at Utah, 1:30 (NBC)

Game 4: Sunday, May 12 San Antonio at Utah, 6:30 p.m. (KJZZ, TNT)

Game 5: Tuesday, May 14 Utah at San Antonio, TBA

Game 6: Thursday, May 16 San Antonio at Utah, TBA, if necessary

Game 7: Saturday, May 18 Utah at San Antonio, TBA, (NBC), if necessary