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JAZZ PUT THEMSELVES IN DO-OR-DIE SITUATION

The game ended Wednesday night at the Rose Garden with Jazz coach Jerry Sloan exchanging four-letter pleasantries with a fan, when a security guard intervened. It was that kind of night. First, the Trail Blazers beat the Jazz 98-90, and then someone wanted to rub it in.

"The guy came down there and kinda spit on me. But that's all right," said Sloan. "I'm used to that."It was actually that kind of week for the Jazz in Portland. Bad treatment all around. "Portland waxed our butts from the start," added Sloan.

Not to mention buffed and Simonized.

In both games this week, the Blazers held the Jazz to 37 percent shooting. They came back from a 2-0 Jazz lead in the best-of-five series, and what was once a yawner is down to a winner-take-all fifth game this Sunday in Salt Lake. The Jazz have done what they swore not to do: let things go too far.

It's like waiting until April 15 to do your taxes or looking for roses on the way home on Valentine's day. You're kicking yourself for not taking care of business earlier, and not quite sure if you're going to be able to pull it off. The series is starting to look like an "I Love Lucy" rerun. Despite their best intentions, the Jazz keep getting deeper and deeper in trouble."We didn't want to be in this situation, but we are," said Karl Malone, who was held to just 15 points. "It's kind of amazing. This trend in professional basketball hasn't changed. When things are going well, people pat you on the back, when things are going bad, they kick you in the (expletive). So the trend is the same. When things are going good, people want to give you five and all that, when things get tough, they don't want to look at you."

Oddly enough, in losing, the Jazz are right where Malone likes to be: in the middle of the drama. He's Gary Cooper in "High Noon," waiting for the showdown. Put him in a meaningless regular season game and he'd rather be fishing. Put him in a sudden-death game in the playoffs and he's warmed up and ready to roll.

"You hate being in it, but all of a sudden you are in it," continued Malone. "You either step away or you step up. I never want to shy away from a situation like that. So we'll see what happens on Sunday."

"I wouldn't want to be in his way in the next three or four days," added Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek. "He lives for these games."

It isn't like the Jazz can take much comfort in knowing they're playing the deciding game at home. In their 12 previous years in the playoffs, they have gone to a deciding tiebreaker game nine times. Only four of those times have they won. They're better when they play the deciding game at home, having gone 3-3.

Last year the Jazz lost Game 5 in Salt Lake to Houston. The previous year they won Game 7 against Denver in Salt Lake. In 1993 they lost Game 5 at Seattle, and in 1992 they won Game 5 in Salt Lake against the Clippers.

All of which illustrates what the Jazz already know: Things could be better. They could have been done with the series and had a good long rest before the second round began. Now even if they do win on Sunday, they'll probably have only a day's rest before moving into the second round.

Considering how the Jazz played in Portland, it isn't a serious surprise they're now hanging on for life. Felton Spencer has just 12 points in four games, Chris Morris six. Malone finished with a dreadful 4-for-16 night on Wednesday, John Stockton went 3-for-13. With those kinds of numbers, the Jazz would have trouble beating the Washington Generals.

In two straight games, the Jazz shot like Stevie Wonder in a fog. In Wednesday's second quarter they were already trailing by 19, by the third period it was up to 21. They got the lead down to eight early in the final quarter but then began to fail. Sloan tried everyone in the lineup at some point during the night, including Adam Keefe, who was suffering from the flu, but to no avail.

"I didn't think we really came up and really played hard," said Sloan. "They made us play a little harder tonight that I think we really wanted to play."

And so once again the Jazz have managed to get themselves into a dangerous situation. They came to Portland in hopes of wrapping up the series, and instead ended up getting waxed. Now they get to play in the type of game everyone loves to play. They just didn't want to be there in the first place.