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Jazz shine over sinking Suns

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Greg Foster has been told for years, in no uncertain terms, what he needs to do to get playing time for the Utah Jazz. He needs to rebound.

Apparently he's gotten the message.Foster has been going to the boards with authority the past two weeks or so, and he's been rewarded with additional playing time. He was especially impressive Tuesday night in the Delta Center. He pulled down a career-high 15 boards - in just three quarters - to help the Jazz to a 92-73 victory over the Phoenix Suns.

Foster played a team-high 32 minutes, alternating at the center and power forward positions. Like the other starters, he was able to rest for the entire fourth quarter since the game was well in hand.

The relationship of rebounding to playing time hasn't been lost on Foster.

"I like to shoot the ball," Foster admitted, "and I realized that if I rebound the ball, I'm going to play more. If I play more, I get to shoot more and have more fun."

The theory certainly proved correct on Tuesday. Foster pulled down five boards in the first quarter as the Jazz built an early lead. He added six more in the second quarter - tying his career-high of 11 boards for a game during the first half alone. He then added four more boards in the third as the Jazz ran away with a surprisingly easy victory.

Foster's rebounding kept him in the game for all but four minutes during the first three quarters - which, in turn, allowed him the opportunity to squeeze off 10 shots. He made five and finished with a dozen points.

"(Foster) went through a lot of games there where he wasn't rebounding and he got frustrated," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "We need big guys to rebound the ball. Karl Malone does it everyday, but we need people to help him. . . . All of a sudden, Foster started rebounding. That's great to see."

Foster, who averaged fewer than three rebounds per game until recently, has pulled down more than eight boards on average during his past eight games.

"(Lack of rebounding) has been the knock on me," said Foster. "I'm trying to erase that."

Utah improved to 51-17 with the win to move back into a tie with Seattle for the best record in the Western Conference. The Jazz and Sonics are one-half game behind the 52-17 Bulls for the top record in the NBA. The Suns, in a battle with San Antonio for the fourth position in the West, fell to 45-24.

Malone led the Jazz, as usual, with 19 points. And the Mailman delivered despite the fact he was feeling flu-like symptoms. He scored 13 points in the first quarter alone despite being under the weather.

"I'm always amazed by Karl Malone," said Sloan. "I've seen him play when he's sick, like he did tonight, and play well. He doesn't like to make a big deal of it and we don't like to make a big deal of it. He's always been the type of guy who will put his uniform on and play no matter what."

Malone, Foster and Co. were able to do such a bang-up job during three quarters that they weren't needed in the fourth. Utah starters put in a grand total of one minute in the final period as both team's benches were cleared, with the Jazz leading by 20-plus points most of the way.

"I didn't recognize our team out there," said Suns coach Danny Ainge. "I have no idea what team that was. We lacked leadership on the court, and we didn't make any shots."

The Jazz dominated the boards, 50-31. Utah had eight players grab four or more rebounds.

"We need people to rebound," said Sloan. "I don't care who rebounds. We've never told anyone not to rebound."

The Jazz, after falling behind 4-0, scored 15 straight points to go up by 11 early. They led the rest of the way. Phoenix scored only 12 points in the second quarter and 15 in the third as the Jazz opened up their lopsided lead.

"We just looked a lot worse than we really are," said Phoenix guard Kevin Johnson.

"Down the road we'll expect a much better Phoenix team," said Adam Keefe.

Jazz guards Jeff Hornacek and Howard Eisley scored 10 points each, while John Stockton dished out a game-high 11 assists. Phoenix was led by Dennis Scott and Danny Manning, who scored 15 and 14 points respectively.

The Jazz were given Wednesday off. They'll practice on Thursday before flying to Dallas to face the Mavericks on Friday night.

*****

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

West race

Team W L Pct GB

Seattle 51 17 .750 -

Utah 51 17 .750 -

L.A. Lakers 49 19 .721 2

San Antonio 47 22 .677 4 1/2

Phoenix 45 24 .672 6 1/2