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Making a point

Some of the Utah Jazz players were in the showers. Others were in their vehicles heading home.

But three remained after practice - point guards all - to get some one-on-one attention Wednesday morning at Westminster College.Howard Eisley was at the west end of the court working on his 3-point shooting with assistant coach Gordon Chiesa. Jacque Vaughn was at the east end, practicing mid-range jumpers off screens with assistant coach Kenny Natt. Troy Hudson was on the side working out with strength coach Mark McKown.

"We're struggling right now as a team," said Natt. "Because John Stockton is out, people will blame the point guards. That's very unfair. These guys are working hard to get better and are really showing progress."

Nobody expected Eisley, in his third year with Utah, and rookies Vaughn and Hudson to do all the things nine-time All-Star Stockton has done for the team. And they haven't.

"They are working very hard," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "We're not asking them to be John Stockton. We just ask them to come out play hard. They've done that for the most part."

Certainly Utah's 1-3 start - its worst since 1991 - can't be pinned exclusively on the point guards. The entire team is struggling. Even if Stockton were in the lineup the Jazz would probably have at least one loss, and likely two, after their tough four-games-in-five-days stretch to open the season.

But Phoenix Suns coach Danny Ainge says the Jazz would be shooting the ball much better than their current 39.9-percent clip from the field if Stockton were around.

"Stockton is a superstar," said Ainge. "He's one of the best point guards who has ever lived. It would be ignorant to say it doesn't affect their execution. . . . When he's running their offense, they lead the league in field-goal percentage."

Said Washington Wizards point guard Rod Strickland. "Jacque and Howard can play. Maybe they can't do all the things Stockton can do, but they are still good players."

Both Eisley and Vaughn, sounding every bit like the Sloan disciples they are, feel the only way things will get better is through hard work. That's why they stuck around after practice when they would have rather been whoofing down a sandwich for lunch.

"I don't feel good at all about where my game's at," said Eisley. "I've got a lot of improvement to make. I just need to continue to work hard and try to do better."

Eisley has started and been on the court the majority of the time, playing 28 minutes per game. He's averaging 9.8 points, 3.8 assists and two turnovers per game.Vaughn has played 18.5 minutes per outing, averaging 5.5 points, 3.5 assists and 2.5 turnovers.

"It's been a tough way to start off," said Vaughn. "But when things don't go right, all you can do is work hard, baby. That's the approach I'm taking . . . I just want to continue to have confidence out there and have the guys gain confidence in me. I think that's happening."

Reigning MVP Karl Malone has no bones about the way the Jazz point guards have played. It's the other guys, he says, who "need to pick it up."

"We have no excuses," said Malone following Tuesday night's lopsided loss to the Suns. "We can't blame everything on John being out."

Stockton won't play for a minimum of six more weeks. Eisley and Vaughn - and the rest of the Jazz - will need to start playing better in a hurry if they want to still be in the hunt for the Midwest Division title when Stockton returns. It won't be easy.

As Eisley put it, "Nobody is going to feel sorry for us in this league. If we want to win ballgames, we're going to have to go out there and take them."

Whether the Jazz will start taking more than their share of wins is still up for debate. One thing you can expect, however, is that the Jazz point guards will still be the last players to leave the gym after practice, regardless.

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Additional Information

Howard Jacque

Eisley Vaughn

Game 4

Min Per Game 28.0 18.5

FG 16 8

FGA 41 16

PCT .390 .500

3pt FG 3 2

3ptA 6 4

PCT .500 .500

FT 4 4

FTA 6 9

PCT .667 .444

APG 3.8 3.5

ST 3 1

TOPG 2.0 2.5

PPG 9.8 5.5