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Game makes Valentine's tough for Jazz

John Stockton will be doing battle tonight against Gary Payton - the best player on the hottest team in the NBA.

So you can forgive the Utah Jazz point guard for not being in a particularly romantic mood, even though this is the one day each year set apart for love and romance."I'm spending Valentine's Day getting ready for the game," said Stockton. "I won't be doing anything else."

Stockton feels his wife, Nada, will understand. "We had a game on Christmas this year, so she shouldn't be too upset we're playing on Valentine's."

The Jazz are probably the most married . . . with children team in the NBA, although there are no official statistics kept on the subject.

Each member of Utah's probable starting lineup tonight, for instance, is married with at least two children. And that doesn't include the recently injured Greg Ostertag, who is also married with two kids. Stockton has five children. Jeff Hornacek has three. Karl Malone also has three kids with another on the way.

Since the team is in Washington state and their families are home, the Jazz players won't be able to take their wives or significant others out for candlelight dinners or the like tonight. Most plan on making at least an attempt to stay in the good graces of their partners, however.

"I'll have the flowers and the candy and the other presents delivered and then we'll make it up some other night," said Hornacek.

Local florists should expect some business coming their way from the Jazz, as flowers seemed to be the gift of choice over jewelry, clothes or anything else.

"I'll be sending flowers and making a phone call and will probably get her some candy," said Jazz center Greg Foster of his plans for his wife, Victoria.

Bryon Russell, a Jazz forward, said he'll send roses to his wife Kimberli - but he'll hold off on the chocolates.

"No candy," he said. "It goes straight to the hips."

Point guard Howard Eisley, who recently became engaged to Tiyesha Blackmon, said he has a few things in mind to do for his sweetheart for Valentine's. But he wasn't about to divulge his secrets.

"It's just important to get something there," said Foster. "But missing a wedding anniversary would be worse than missing Valentine's. Then I'd really hear about it. In fact, I have heard about it."

Forward Adam Keefe, whose wife Kristen recently delivered their first two children, twin girls, says not being around on special occasions is an occupational hazard.

"Obviously our wives know about our jobs and know that we'll be gone on certain holidays,"

Keefe said. "We could be gone on Christmas, New Year's and Thanksgiving, too, and those are bigger deals than Valentine's. It's all part of life in the NBA."

Center Antoine Carr will get his sweetheart some of the same things as the others - flowers, a card and such. But Carr, like most of his teammates, doesn't think Valentine's Day is a big deal.

"For me," said the Big Dawg, "every day is Valentine's Day."