With three straight losses already this week, the Jazz needed some soup for their tortured souls.

Chicken, split-pea, cream of Cavalier.

Flavor didn't matter, they just needed to win.

Utah did that Friday night, beating Cleveland 95-88 at the Delta Center and giving the 26-46 Cavaliers their 14th loss in 18 games. For the 47-24 Jazz, the less-than-drop-dead-gorgeous victory couldn't have come at a needier time.

"We haven't been playing good basketball lately," guard John Starks said, "but we'll take the win."

And run.

Cleveland tried to bully its way to a win, but the Jazz — who lost to Dallas on Monday, at Houston on Tuesday and at San Antonio on Thursday — pulled out all stops to keep them from doing so.

"That's the way they play out East," long-time New York Knick Starks said. "There's going to be a lot of bumping, and grabbing and holding. You just have to keep your cool in those types of games. I thought we did a good job of not backing down, (but) staying cool."

It wasn't easy for the Jazz, who did have veteran forward Danny Manning ejected, along with also-ejected Chris Gatling of Cleveland, on a night of rather out-of-the-ordinary happenings.

Right off, Utah opened with a new-look lineup that had swingman Bryon Russell, who had been coming off the bench since losing his starting small forward spot in January to Donyell Marshall, starting in place of benched shooting guard Starks.

Russell had been struggling and still is after shooting just 1 of 10. So had Starks, who responded to the demotion with a 4-of-8 effort.

Utah also worked to get Karl Malone going again and did so by feeding him for a game-high 33 points, including 11-of-19 shooting from the floor.

"I think everybody looks and says we should have won the ballgame," Malone said, "but you play four games in five nights, and you have a team that's laying here waiting on you that has nothing to lose and everything to gain — it was a tough win.

"I like the way down the stretch, through all the things that were happening," Malone added, "we were able to keep our composure and get a win."

The Jazz were up 47-41 at the half and stretched their third-quarter lead to as many as 12 before the Cavs whittled it back down to 68-67 with two minutes and 13 seconds remaining in the period.

Things had already started getting chippy in the third, when Marshall picked up a technical for shoving aggressive-but-annoying Matt Harpring. It was in the fourth, though, that the Jazz pulled away again, and that is when play really got physical.

With Utah up 77-70 and just more than nine minutes still to go, Manning was bumped by Gatling, Manning flopped a few steps back, then pushed Gatling to the floor. Gatling, rather than staying down and drawing a potential flagrant foul, popped up and charged back at Manning. Both got technicals and were ejected, and Gatling, for added measure, threw his headband at a fan on his way out.

"I'm not running from nobody, not trying to agitate anything or start anything," said Gatling, who called Manning "a dirty player."

"But I'm going to protect myself," Gatling added, "and if you come at me, I'm coming at you twice."

The Jazz didn't let any of that rattle them, though, and held their lead at five or more for the rest of the game.

Not pretty, but a much-needed victory nonetheless.

"We had to get a win," Starks said.

"It's tough," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan added. "These guys have played four games in five nights, and Karl Malone is no longer a young man, and he had a huge game for us.

"Some of the things we weren't able to do was because of fatigue. . . . (But) when we had to get the job done, we got the ball where it was supposed to go."

With that, the Jazz — with 10 games remaining in their season and still hoping to catch San Antonio to top seed in the NBA's Western Conference — head to Vancouver for what should be another sip from the soup bowl.

"I don't know what other people are thinking," Malone said, "but I don't think this thing is over with."

MISC.: Ex-Ute point guard Andre Miller led the Cavs with 24 points. He was perfect on his 10 free-throw attempts . . . Jazz owner Larry H. Miller and six other NBA power brokers (Phoenix's Jerry Colangelo, Jerry Buss of the Los Angeles Lakers, Indiana's Herb Simon, New York's Dave Checketts, New Jersey's Lewis Katz and San Antonio's Peter Holt) have been named to a committee to research requests made by both the Vancouver Grizzlies and the Charlotte Hornets to relocate in Memphis, Tenn. The committee has up to 120 days to make a recommendation to the full NBA Board of Governors, though league officials hope it will take only about half that time . . . Jazz guard John Stockton played his 1,330th regular-season game, pushing him past Moses Malone and into third place behind Robert Parish (1,611) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,560) on the NBA's all-time games played list . . . The Cavs on Friday activated Robert Traylor (back spasms) from the injured list and placed Cedric Henderson (strained groin) on it. Bimbo Coles (back spasms) did not play . . . Jazz center Olden Polynice risked a possible suspension by leaving the Jazz bench area during the Manning-Gatling incident.


E-MAIL: tbuckley@desnews.com