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Malone vows no finger-pointing

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DALLAS — For so long this season, Karl Malone prided himself on proving the naysayers wrong.

No one in their right mind predicted the Jazz would win the NBA's Western Conference, but there they were, sitting atop the standings. Some wondered if the Jazz would win 50 games, but there they were, rolling right toward that number.

All the while, Malone reminded the critics they never saw it coming.

Now, however, the tables are turned.

Utah has fallen from the first to fifth seed in the West. Losses to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday and Sacramento on Thursday leave the Jazz stuck on 49 victories with seven games to go in their regular season, including tonight's at Dallas, which has the same 49-26 record. And Malone is bemoaning the travails of a team that has lost eight of its last 14 games, a team that lately seems incapable of beating any of the West's playoff-quality opponents.

"I hate losing," he said, "because I hate giving people the satisfaction of the doubt."

And there are doubts, yessireebob.

Doubts if the Jazz can get it together in time to make a respectable run during their 18th consecutive playoff appearance. Doubts if they can beat anyone besides losers like the Los Angeles Clippers, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Vancouver Grizzlies. Doubts if, after a two-year absence, they have what it takes to make it back to the NBA Finals for the third time in five seasons.

Malone, though, has no doubts that the Jazz can emerge from their funk and put an end to all the speculation on what is wrong in Utah.

"Everybody's got a solution on how Karl Malone should play, and how John Stockton should play," he said, "but I think the most important thing is we've done it a helluva lot longer than a lot of people — the so-called experts.

"So we're just going to work through this tough situation, and not really start pointing fingers — because word is we have problems amongst ourselves on this team. And I haven't seen any."

Solving the puzzle of the Jazz's woes, Malone suggested, must come from within.

"When you start losing everybody has something to say, and everybody has a solution to it," he said. "(But), at the end of the day, nobody is going to solve it but these guys in this locker room."

Reality suggests no one has actually accused either Malone or Stockton — 16- and 17-season Jazz vets, respectively — of being anything even close to the source of coach Jerry Sloan's consternation.

To Malone, though, that doesn't matter.

"You win or lose as a team," he said. "Right now, we're losing as a team. It's not an individual thing at all. It's a team thing."

And the team, Malone vowed, will not succumb to that which tears apart so many others in this same sort of situation: "I think as long as I'm here we are going to continue to not point the fingers, because it starts with Karl Malone, and John Stockton, and right on down the line. So there's no finger-pointing here now."

Instead, Malone prefers to focus on ways the Jazz can bounce back.

"Going through tough times . . . you just keep playing," he said. "That's all you've got to do. Keep working hard, and basically that's it."

Malone hopes that's enough.

If it's not, he will continue to be one unhappy camper. Because right now, the Jazz are doing something that doesn't sit real well with him.

They're losing, a lot.

"Even if you're playing in a pickup basketball game, you don't like to lose," Malone said. "And at our level, it's a whole different ballgame.

"Winning is important," he added. "I've been doing this for 16 years, and losing still leaves kind of a crappy taste in your mouth. I love to win. . . . Forget the (conference) race and all that stuff; I like to win."

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com