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MAILMAN'S MIFFED AND RARIN' TO GO

Bad news for the Portland Trail Blazers: The Mailman is grouchy.

He's irritated at NBC for making the Jazz wait until Sunday to conclude their playoff series against the Blazers, he's annoyed at the local media for being too negative, he's fed up with people who shake his hand when he wins, then won't look him in the eye when he loses.In other words, Karl Malone is ready to play.

Malone reportedly turned down an interview request from NBC, and when asked what he thought about playing on Sunday said, "I hate it. I wish we played today (Friday). I have to lay around and listen to all that (baloney) you guys talk about."

After a few more questions on less volatile subjects, Malone suddenly said, "I'm tired of shaking hands, because a (stinking) handshake doesn't mean (stink). If you're not a teammate, I'm not shaking your hand. When things are going great, people are great. When things are (not great), people are (not great)."

Malone said his only refuge was his home.

"The only thing keeping me level right now is my family," he said. Asked if he was grouchy there, he said, "Absolutely not. I'm not grumpy at home. that's my domain. That's what keeps my sanity."

The Mailman said he does his best to ignore the media.

"I've had my wife throw away the sports page before I get up in the morning," he said. "All of a sudden everybody is an expert. All of a sudden, everybody is a defensive genius."

This could be seen coming, of course. Malone has a history of reacting to what he perceives as criticism with some vehemence, and frequently takes out his frustrations on the Jazz's next opponent.

Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek, asked after Wednesday's Game 4 loss what he expected from Malone, said, "I wouldn't want to get in his way the next three or four days."

Hornacek also said he expects Malone to bounce back from a poor Game 4.

"There haven't been many times when Karl has had two bad games in a row, so that's a good sign," he said.

As for playing on Sunday, Hornacek said it didn't bother him.

"It doesn't matter to me," he said. "Sometimes you want to get right back to it, but it gives us a couple of days to think about doing things better. It might help."

The Blazers are probably grateful for the three-day delay. Center Arvydas Sabonis' wife, Ingrida, gave birth to the couple's third child - and third son - early Friday morning. The Blazers came to Salt Lake City on Friday, and Sabonis was expected to join them on Saturday.