The Big Aristotle left the Delta Center court huffing like a Stanley Steamer after being ejected for his second technical foul of the fourth quarter with 3:57 left.

Greg Ostertag left the court at the normal time, after the game, flexing his muscles in fun like a weightlifter for Jazz owner Larry H. Miller, who later was seen walking in a DC hallway with Laker Karl Malone, with whom he'd been apparently feuding earlier.

That tells about what needs to be known of Monday night's improbable Utah Jazz 88-83 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers and the steaming Shaquille O'Neal in a battle of two of the most battered teams in the NBA.

The Lakers opened the game with just nine players with Horace Grant declared out with a hip flexor strain and Slava Medvedenko back at the hotel with an upper respiratory problem.

And they finished with just eight after O'Neal was ejected for an elbowing technical that shocked him after he'd picked up a loose ball under the rim and dunked it over Ostertag and Andrei Kirilenko, who took the brunt of O'Neals arms. That followed a shoving technical at 5:11 of the fourth.

And that gave the 32-32 Jazz a much better chance to pull off the win over the 41-22 Lakers, according to Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

"I think, first of all, you have to have a little luck," Sloan said. "Obviously, when O'Neal went out of the ballgame, that certainly turned things around."

Laker coach Phil Jackson said he'd have to hold his tongue about the play that got O'Neal booted because he didn't have the luxury of seeing replays. "(Refereee) Bob Delaney's known to be very prejudiced against Shaquille. We know that. So we wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't a good call, but I'm not going to make a comment on that right now," Jackson said.

"I told the players, we've seen it time and time again here in Salt Lake, that those things happen. They let them get on top of your players. It gets to be a physical mess, and we have situations like this that happen where the crowd gets involved, the referees don't know how to handle it, and they have a difficult time," Jackson added, apparently forgetting his days with the Chicago Bulls and the Utah crowd's love affair with official Dick Bavetta for giving Chicago a couple of important playoff after-buzzer baskets.

But the Jazz felt lucky over the turn of events.

"Fortunately, we made a couple shots, a couple tough shots. Andrei made really a tough shot, and made our free throws when we came down the stretch," said Sloan.

"We need to get a win any way we can, against anybody — whoever we play — to see if we can keep hanging in there and stay alive in this playoff race," Sloan said.

The tough shot by Kirilenko was a baseline turnaround from the right side with the shot clock running down to give Utah a 75-72 lead. It was Utah's last field goal of the night. The Jazz made 13 of 14 free throws to stay ahead as time wound out.

Kirilenko was the recipient of both O'Neal technical acts. "Second one wasn't so hard, but the first one, he put his elbow in my throat," Kirilenko said. "It was tough, but it's a game. I get used to that. Every night I get beaten. He is a big force inside, defensively and offensively."

And a good man to have out of the Laker lineup.

Utah, with a patchwork roster that has lost 217 man-games to injury, saw starting point guard Carlos Arroyo go down Monday.

Arroyo left the game after hyperextending his back falling into the first row on a defensive play with 5:05 left in the third quarter. He said later he twisted the back as he fell. The Jazz will await the result of X-rays today.

That may have been good for the Jazz, in an odd way, because backup Raul Lopez did a good job directing them and keeping the ball moving. "He had an important game for us," Sloan said. "Carlos struggled a great deal, and then he gets banged up. Both Raul and Mo came in and gave us a nice lift in the short time he was out there."

Utah's bench was also important, said Kirilenko. "It was the best night for our bench. Raja and Raul, they just crush. I think they outscored the Lakers by 35."

New father Gordan Giricek led the bench mob with 21 points, six rebounds and four steals, Ostertag had seven points and 10 rebounds - second to Kirilenko's 14 - Lopez scored 17 with five assists and Bell had 13 points with three assists. All played a part in fairly strong defense.

Gary Payton led the Lakers with 21 points, and O'Neal had 16 with 10 rebounds in only 28 minutes, limited by personal fouls.


E-mail: lham@desnews.com