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Jazz keep providing cures for the Blazers' ailments

Clearly, the Utah Jazz now have the Portland Trail Blazers right where they want them.

These teams concluded their season series Thursday at the Delta Center with another thriller, won by Portland, 101-99. Like their last meeting in Salt Lake, the game went to the wire and wasn't over until the final buzzer.

The victory gave Portland a 3-1 edge for the season, which probably has the Blazers feeling pretty good about themselves.

But look closer at the four games, and you'll notice these teams scored the same number of points against each other. Utah's lone victory was by six points, Portland's three wins by three, two and one.

Obviously, they're fairly evenly matched, even if it does seem sometimes as if the Jazz just can't beat these guys.

If nothing else, the Blazers should thank the Jazz for forcing them to play their best game. Even when the Blazers are struggling, it seems to put their problems behind them when Utah is their foe.

"We took one of their best shots tonight," said Blazers point guard-shooting guard-forward Scottie Pippen. "Anytime you can play them down to the wire in here, you're playing well."

The thing is, the Blazers haven't been playing well lately. They had lost six of eight games entering Thursday's encounter, including two defeats at the hands of the lowly Grizzlies. Of course, one of their wins in that stretch was against the Jazz.

Pippen was at a loss to explain his team's ability to rise up against Utah.

"You learn a lot from playing the Jazz," he said. "You learn to be poised. You know it's going to be a long game."

One thing the Blazers learned is they have a matchup for which the Jazz apparently have no answer — Pippen vs. John Stockton. The Blazers tried it a couple times, and the first time it produced little. But down the stretch Pippen exploited his height advantage to score on three of four possessions over Stockton, the last of which resulted in Portland's first lead since the first quarter.

"That's just something we have in our arsenal," Portland coach Mike Dunleavy said of the luxury of having a 6-foot-7 point guard.

Pippen isn't the only weapon in the Blazer arsenal, of course. With somewhere in the neighborhood of 37 players under contract — they had five point guards with them at the Delta Center — Portland not only has the league's biggest payroll ($86.9 million before they signed Rod Strickland) but the biggest collection of talent in one place since the All-Star game.

Despite that wealth of talent they've struggled, and heading into Thursday's game had just the fifth-best record in the Western Conference. Dunleavy hopes beating the Jazz will prove a tonic.

"Hopefully this will get us back on track," he said. "Even if Stockton had made the (last-second) shot, I still would have felt good about the way we played."

Asked if his team had turned the corner, Dunleavy shook his head and said, "It's like one of those guys, if you've got an addiction, you've got a problem, it's never over. You have to take it day by day."

Unless you can play the Jazz every day.


E-MAIL: rich@desnews.com