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Season's results vs. East's best give Jazz hope

Chris Morris said there was a lot of butterflies flying around in the final second of Indiana's 96-94 victory over Chicago in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals Monday.

And Utah Jazz teammate Antoine Carr explained why."It was just the thought of having to come to a Jerry Sloan practice for three more days," Carr said. "You know, I'd rather play ball."

When Michael Jordan's buzzer-beating shot rolled off the rim, it meant the Bulls and Pacers series would go at least six games - pushing the start date of the NBA Finals from this Sunday to Wednesday, June 3. Thus, Utah's reward for sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals is a 10-day wait.

Morris anticipates that'll mean plenty of tough practices as the Jazz seek to maintain the mental aspect of their game.

Chess, it isn't. Though the Jazz do have the satisfaction of having played well against whichever team they'll face in the 1998 NBA Finals. Game 5 of the Eastern Finals is scheduled for tonight in Chicago.

A look back at Utah's 1997-98 regular-season meetings against the Bulls and Pacers:

Dec. 8, 1997

Jazz 106, Pacers 97

At the Delta Center, John Stockton made his season debut after missing 18 games following knee surgery. He made an immediate impact by converting on a three-point play just 10 seconds into the contest. Utah outscored Indiana by 25 points over the 20 minutes Stock-ton was on the floor, but the Pacers had a 16-point edge during the 28 minutes he sat on the bench.

Stockton finished with 10 points, seven assists and just one turnover, while teammate Karl Malone had 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Their combined effort earned the praise of Pacers coach Larry Bird.

"I don't think I've ever seen a tandem - a guard and a forward - be so good at what they do," Bird said before expressing frustration at wearing a suit on the sidelines instead of being out on the court playing. "Here I put the ball in someone else's hands."

Indiana grew frustrated in seeing its six-game winning streak come to an end. Scoring leader Reggie Miller was ejected after picking up two technicals in the third period, and 6-foot-11, 230-pound teammate Dale Davis drew heat for a hard foul on Stockton moments earlier. The Pacers forward was upset after running into several hard picks by Stockton. After catching an elbow to the face, getting kicked in the head and being knocked down several times in the game, Stockton said he knew he was back in the NBA.

Jan. 23, 1998

Pacers 106, Jazz 102

At Market Square Arena, Utah shot 62 percent in the first half while building a 56-46 lead. The sweet success, however, eventually turned sour.

"We had a great first half, probably our best all season," Jeff Hornacek said. "But (the Pacers) are a great team. The second half was discouraging. They played hard and executed well."

Rik Smits, Reggie Miller and Antonio Davis teamed for 68 points and 18 rebounds as Indiana rallied to victory. Utah was led by 26 points and eight rebounds from Malone. Stockton added 18 points and 11 assists.

Indy's win, coupled with Utah's triumph at Chicago two days later, made Bird the Eastern Conference coach for the All-Star game - a job he did not want.

"I'll be in Florida when they're playing that game. I've already got my plans and I have no desire to coach in the All-Star game," Bird said after the Jazz game. "I have no desire to ever go to an All-Star game again."

Bird, obviously, wound up changing his mind.

Jan. 25, 1998

Jazz 101, Bulls 94

At the United Center, Utah celebrated Super Bowl Sunday by becoming the first Western Con-fer-ence team in 39 tries to win in Chicago. In a nationally televised meeting between last season's NBA finalists, MVP can-di-dates Malone and Jordan each had outstanding individual performances. The Mailman finished with 35 points, 11 rebounds and three assists, while His Airness countered with 32 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

"(The Jazz) are a ball-control team, and they have veteran leadership. I think that really means a lot in a playoff situation," Jordan said. "Sure, physically, Seattle's better, L.A.'s better, and maybe even San Antonio's better. But I still see Utah coming out of the West."

The prophetic remarks followed a spirited comeback by the Bulls that fell short. After playing to a draw over the first two periods, the Jazz eventually built a 13-point lead in the second half. Utah, in fact, held a 96-84 advantage with less than three minutes to play before Chicago closed the gap with a 10-2 run. However, it proved to be too little, too late.

"It was a good win," Stockton said. "But it doesn't mean anything in the big picture."

Feb. 4, 1998

Jazz 101, Bulls 93

At the Delta Center, Utah survived an early stampede to sweep the season series from the two-time defending NBA champions. The Bulls jumped out to a 41-17 lead before the Jazz retaliated. Chris Morris played the entire second quarter, scoring 10 points and grabbing six rebounds, as Utah began to turn the tide.

"We didn't panic," Stockton said. "We didn't start playing outside of ourselves, and that's the big difference between this game and games that we don't come back."

Stockton tallied 17 points and 18 assists, while Malone scored 30 points and pulled down eight rebounds. Jordan scored 40, including 13 in the first quarter.

"(Utah has) proven they can beat us in our building and they've proven they can beat us here," Jordan said after losing to Utah for the second time in 10 days. "We lost our serve and we've certainly lost our set. Hopefully, we won't think about that if we have to face this team again in the playoffs."



NBA Finals

Jazz vs. East champion

Game 1: Wednesday

Bulls/Pacers at Jazz, 7 p.m.

Game 2: Friday

Bulls/Pacers at Jazz, 7 p.m.

Game 3: Sunday

Jazz at Bulls/Pacers, 5:30 p.m.

Game 4: Wednesday, June 10

Jazz at Bulls/Pacers, 7 p.m.

Game 5: Friday, June 12*

Jazz at Bulls/Pacers, 7 p.m.

Game 6: Sunday, June 14*

Bulls/Pacers at Jazz, 5:30 p.m.

Game 7: Wednesday, June 17*

Bulls/Pacers at Jazz, 7 p.m.

*-if necessary. All games televised on NBC (Ch. 5 locally).