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Despite problems, Jazz win

Malone cut, Marshall hurt and bench cold

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Not everything went the Jazz's way Thursday night.

Starting small forward Donyell Marshall exited early with a bruised right hip, and is "questionable" for Saturday's game against Memphis. An accidental head butt cost Karl Malone three stitches to close a cut over his right eye. Utah's hot-of-late bench came up cold, perhaps bruising a few egos.

Really, though, the battered Jazz can't complain too much.

After all, they were big-time beneficiaries of Steve Francis' rather questionable ejection. Marshall's injury doesn't seem major; Malone returned quickly after getting sewn shut, seeing his way quite clearly to a game-high 30 points. And Utah managed a not-so-simple 83-79 victory over the Houston Rockets at the Delta Center, marking win No. 7 in its last eight games.

"It felt good to get a win," said Jazz reserve swingman Bryon Russell, who mustn't have felt too good about his 1-of-8 shooting, but couldn't have been happier with his fortuitous late-game defense. "Now we are on what you call a 'winning streak.'"

It's during times like these that certain things that might not otherwise seem to go a team's way. Such was the case Thursday for the 19-16 Jazz, who, two games into a five-game homestand, have now won three in row.

The fact Francis was tossed barely more than two minutes into the third quarter is one primary example.

To that point, the Rockets' flashy point guard had 27 points in 23 minutes. A dozen of those had come on 4-of-7 shooting from behind the 3-point line, part of a Houston effort that featured 13 treys in 28 tries — including nine in the first half, tying a Jazz opponent record. Francis generally had his way offensively, making referee Joey Crawford's call that much more critical.

Late in the opening quarter, Francis picked up a deserved technical foul for slamming the ball out of frustration at Jazz guard John Crotty after Francis got trapped and was forced to call a timeout as he fell out-of-bounds.

His third-quarter misdeed, however, seemed much more benign: Francis appeared to merely swat at Jazz guard John Stockton, but Crawford ruled he threw an elbow, meaning an automatic tech and, because it was Francis' second, an automatic ejection.

"I didn't see what happened," Stockton said.

Neither did many others looking right at the play, but Crawford seemed certain about the call, and he booted Francis with particular verve.

The Rockets hung tough nevertheless.

The game was tied when Francis was chased, and Utah led by 10 early in the fourth quarter. But Houston then went on a 19-4 run, putting its own advantage at 5 after a Kelvin Cato dunk with four minutes and 37 seconds to go.

"There was no letting up," Stockton said of the play of the Rockets' Francis-less backcourt, particularly Cuttino Mobley and Moochie Norris. "Those guys can put up big numbers, and there's three or four of them that can do it."

Still, without Francis, the Rockets were at a loss in the late-going.

Utah retook the lead with a 7-0 mini-run, getting several nice hustle plays in that span from Scott Padgett (the only Jazz sub who scored in double figures, with 11), two free throws from Malone, one from Andrei Kirilenko, and jumpers by both Malone and Stockton.

Mobley made a 17-foot jumper to tie the game at 79 with 39.4 seconds left, but Malone answered with two more free throws, putting the Jazz up by 2 with 25.6 to go.

After a timeout, the Rockets cleared out so Mobley — not Norris, who hit a 3-pointer to beat New York as time expired just last Tuesday — could go 1-on-1 with Russell. Mobley pulled up for a failed 22-foot fade, reminiscent of Ron Mercer's errant jumper with Russell on him in the late-going of Utah's overtime win at Chicago last Saturday.

"I like it," Russell said, "when they make my job easy by taking shooting fadeaway jump shots."

So do the rest of the Jazz, especially after Kirilenko was able to grab the Mobley miss, got fouled and made the two free throws that followed, ensuring Utah goes into this Saturday's game against Memphis with its short streak intact.

Perhaps more importantly than that, the Jazz march on knowing many more things are going their way than just a few weeks ago.

"I think we have a little bit more confidence coming down the stretch — what everybody's going to do out there — and that helps," said Stockton, who scored 19. "I think the results kind of show."

MISC.: Marshall came down hard on his hip after going up for a third-quarter rebound. He did not return, but did walk off laughing in pain after being chided about a well-cushioned landing. While the initial report was that the injury wasn't serious, Marshall was sore on Friday and was listed as questionable for Saturday's game . . . Malone also had 10 rebounds, marking his team-high 11th double-double of the season. He moved past Buck Williams and alone into fifth place on the NBA's all-time games played list, with 1,308. Next to catch: Moses Malone (1,329) . . . Houston's absentees included Glen Rice, who underwent surgery Tuesday to repair a partial tear of the patellar tendon in his right knee.


E-MAIL: tbuckley@desnews.com