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CROWD'S NUMBER CHANT SURPRISES THE MAILMAN

Karl Malone was taken by surprise.

The first time he stepped to the free-throw line Saturday, many of the 17,072 fans in attendance at Key Arena began counting in unison, "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6," etc."It caught me off-guard about the free throws, because I hadn't heard anything," the Mailman said.

What he hadn't heard is that Sonics coach George Karl apparently made some comments in a Seattle newspaper to the effect that videotapes show Malone takes as many as 17 seconds before attempting foul shots, despite a league rule allowing only 10 seconds.

Told that after the game, Malone expressed amazement that Karl would bother.

"That's pretty boring, isn't it, watching me on tape missing free throws?" Malone said. "Get a life. Go ride a bike or go fishing or something."

Asked if the counting bothered him, Malone - who made just one of six foul shots - said, "Not really. I haven't been shooting free throws well, anyway."

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan didn't think Karl's comments should bother his player.

"He didn't come out there and touch him or anything," Sloan said.

The Jazz's first postseason blow-up occurred Saturday.

Midway through the third quarter, after a 6:07 stretch in which he contributed one rebound, zero points, Chris Morris was replaced by Bryon Russell.

On his way to the bench, a ball boy tossed Morris a towel, which the Jazz player caught and angrily threw behind him, onto the floor.

Seeing that, Sloan rushed down to where Morris sat on the bench and - according to witnesses - thoroughly chewed him out. At least one witness said Morris appeared to talk back to Sloan.

After the game, a reporter approached Morris, who only waved his hand in a dismissive gesture.

The reporter said: "You not talking today?"

And Morris replied: "Grunt."

Random thoughts on Game 1:

- Everybody around here forgives Gary Payton for his trash-talking ugliness because he's such a terrific player, but its pretty pathetic to see him woofing at Jazz guard Howard Eisley, who is as nice a guy as you'll see in this league.

- What could be more ironic than Sonics guard Nate McMillan playing on the same team as noted thug Frank Brickowski and still calling Adam Keefe a cheap-shot artist and John Stockton a dirty player? Brickowski grabbed Keefe by the wrist and swung him to the floor at one point in Game 1, right in front of referee Eddie F. Rush. No call.

- It was fairly obvious that the Sonics used their five days off to prepare well for Utah, especially on the defensive end of the court. Give Seattle credit, though, for finishing off the Rockets in four games and earning that time off.

- The Jazz deserve some credit, too, for not making an excuse of their brief preparation time, despite efforts of some media types to give them that out. "It was an advantage, but it didn't make a 30-point difference," said Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek. "It's not like we never played them before."

- Everyone wants to compare Karl Malone to Shawn Kemp, and John Stockton to Gary Payton, but its only a valid comparison in the sense they play the same position. The fact is, Kemp rarely defends Malone; that task is left to Ervin Johnson. Malone does defend Kemp, however. Asked about the Stockton-Payton matchup, Hornacek said, "I don't see how you guys can compare those two guys. They have different games." His point: Payton is more of a scorer, Stockton more of a passer.