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Jazz slip past Bulls

17th win of season comes in overtime — with some blemishes

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CHICAGO — It wasn't exactly a picture of perfection.

But where today's Jazz are concerned, that's OK.

They're not about to let a few blemishes spoil their 17th win of the season, a 113-111 overtime win over a Chicago Bulls team that is a very young shadow of its once-proud self.

"I can't really find a negative spin to put on it," Jazz point guard John Stockton said. "It was a good win, a tough win. . . . We'll take it."

So, at least from one man's perspective, forget that the Jazz blew a 7-point lead with less than two minutes to go in regulation at the United Center. Ignore their eight turnovers in the fourth quarter. Don't even think about the fact they tried, but failed, to put away the 6-26 Bulls much earlier than that.

Concentrate instead, Stockton will insist, on the fact Utah rebounded from Friday night's follies in Minnesota to get back over .500 at 17-16.

"I think when it's all said and done you want to improve everywhere all the time, and I don't know that we did that," he said. "But we were able to come back from a team that came back on us, so to speak, and we were able to pull out the victory, so we'll focus on the positives, and hopefully we'll get better on the other stuff."

The Jazz's check marks in the plus column on this blustery Chicago night included these:

a huge contribution off the bench from third-year forward Scott Padgett, who stepped in for all of the fourth quarter and all of overtime to finish with a season-high 16 points;

a good defensive effort from Bryon Russell and Donyell Marshall against Chicago's Ron Mercer, who mercifully for the Jazz decided to go 1-on-1 with failed shots at both the end of regulation and late in OT;

a combined 57 points from Marshall, who finished with 25 points, and Karl Malone, who posted a game-high 32.

"We should have finished them off in regulation," Marshall said, "but we responded well in overtime, and I think that's the biggest thing."

Utah, which lost by 7 to the Timberwolves on Friday night, led the Bulls by 11 at the half and by as many as 15 in the third quarter. And even after a Ron Artest 3-pointer at the end of the third, the Jazz were still up by 6.

Three times in the fourth, Chicago cut Utah's lead to 1 — once on an Artest dunk with 7:35 to go, again on Artest jumper with 5:34 remaining and finally, with 34.3 seconds left, with a Marcus Fizer layup.

Fizer was fouled in the lane by Padgett, and he made the resulting free throw to tie the game at 100. The Jazz then put the ball in the hands of a confident Padgett to try to win in regulation, but instead of pulling up for a shot to win he charged into Fizer with 14.2 seconds left.

With the ball back, the Bulls called a timeout to set up a play for Mercer.

"We kind of felt Ron had the advantage, and we wanted to go with our best scorer," said Bill Cartwright, who only recently took over as head coach after Tim Floyd bailed on the baby Bulls — not the version that won six NBA titles from 1991-98.

Mercer isolated Russell, but instead of driving, he faked left, turned right and, put up a 19-footer that came up well off the mark.

"He made my job easy," Russell laughed. "I was going to play between him and the basket. I wasn't going to go for no fakes. But when he turned his back toward me, I was like, 'Oh, he's shooting a jumper.' So my thing was when he did the fade, just get a hand up on him, and he shot it short — bless his heart."

That forced a five-minute OT in which Padgett led the way, starting with a leaner that gave the Jazz a lead they would not relinquish. When Stockton made a free throw resulting from a defensive 3-second violation on the Bulls, Utah was up 110-108 with 42.2 seconds left.

Again, the ball went to Mercer — who is not exactly Michael Jordan.

This time, with Marshall on him, and only waving teammate Tyson Chandler out of his way, Mercer put up a wild 23-footer that didn't come close, either. With that and a few more anxious seconds, the Jazz managed to stave off heading back to Salt Lake to open a five-game homestand on a real down note.

Some, like Stockton, did so happily. Others, though, preferred a somewhat more realistic approach.

"It's just good to get a win," Russell said. "But we let teams back into it by getting too complacent and relaxed. That's what happened.

"We play better than what our record shows," he added. "But by our lack of effort and lack of intensity down the stretch, we give it away. No way we should have lost 16 games already. But, you know, you have to go with what you've got now, so we've just got to roll."

NOTES: This was the 100th overtime game in Jazz regular-season history. Utah is now 53-47 in OT, including 1-3 this season . . . Bulls starting center Brad Miller left in the first quarter with a sore left hand and did not return . . . Malone was 1-of-2 on 3-point tries, making him 4-for-10 on the season . . . The Jazz's 53 free-throw attempts were a season-high.


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com