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Jazz still make Utahns proud

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"Doctor J" - as in Jordan - prescribed an unstoppable antidote to Finals Fever in Utah with his unearthly array of fadeaway jumpers, spinning drives and indominatable will to win. In the end, the all-time king of the court and his jesters proved too much for mere Jazz mortals to contain.

Still, disappointed though they are, Utahns have every reason to be proud of their professional basketball team and of the class it continues to show both on and off the court. The players, coach, front office and owner have shown the rest of the world how athletes and teams ought to conduct themselves in this age of greed and unsportsmanlike conduct, and that makes them winners in a much bigger arena.Winning it all on the court, however, may ultimately take finding a different opponent than Chicago. Indeed, Jazz fans may be wondering in retrospect where the Indiana Pacers were when Utah needed them.

It was nevertheless a great title run despite a disappointing second-place finish, highlighted by a gritty Game 5 win in Chicago to postpone elimination. The second half of that contest epitomized Utah's season - offense clicking to near perfection, keying off a yeoman 39-point effort by Karl Malone and scrappy team defense.

Other than that 24-minute stretch of terrific basketball, the Jazz hardly looked like themselves during much of the Finals, struggling to get on track after demolishing the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Championship. Obviously, a tough Chicago Bulls team had much to do with that.

The last game was a classic for the ages. Utah looked to be in command early before Jordan, playing with unhealthy sidekick Scottie Pippen, took control for the Bulls - dueling basket-for-basket with Karl Malone during one exciting stretch.

Mailman and Co. were great but human. Jordan was other-worldly, willing his team to its sixth world championship with an unbelievable display of heart and talent.

MJ's nearly single-handed efforts contrasted with Utah's inclusive team philosophy, which permeates the entire Jazz organization and was the hallmark of this year's club. The question facing Larry Miller, Jerry Sloan, players and fans is whether Utah can regroup for a third title run after another bitterly close call.

Had defeat come in Game 5, after unJazzlike efforts that had the team on life support with its collective heart in doubt, the franchise may never have recovered. But rising from near death to make a series of it should key one more run - with an avenue open due to the imminent breakup of the Bulls.

If that's what it takes for Utah to win one, so be it. A title is a title, and the third time may be the charm.

Until then, Jazz fans are left to find a silver lining that included 62 wins and a Western Conference crown attained while overcoming some unique adversity. Those challenges included injuries to John Stockton, Greg Os-ter-tag and Antoine Carr, a failed trade for Rony Seikaly and the pressure of being a marked team as last year's best in the West.

That's not all everyone hoped for, but it's not bad. Until next season, it will have to do.