Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas notwithstanding, Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan says the exhibition season has bigger ramifications than just winning.

The Jazz open their eight-game preseason schedule tonight at 6:30 (KISN-AM 570) when they meet the Chicago Bulls. And though the Bulls are one of the best teams in the East, and the NBA's top draw, Michael Jordan, will be present and accounted for, Sloan says getting ready for the "counters" is what's most important."People have already bought their tickets for the season," said Sloan. "Our job right now is to try to get ready for the opening game."

Before that comes the exhibition slate. Not only is Chicago on the schedule twice; the Jazz also play Phoenix, Boston (twice) Philadelphia (twice) and Detroit. "We play some very talented teams in the exhibition season," said Sloan. "That will be good for us."

Traditionally the Jazz haven't been terribly impressive in the preseason. They went 3-4 last year, 5-3 the previous season and 5-3 in 1987. "I'd love to go 8-0, but also you have to play to get things taken care of, so it's a mixture of both," said Jazz star Karl Malone.

Teams concentrate on getting plays down and deciding what combinations to use. Utah's big priority will be deciding how best to use newcomer Jeff Malone.

So the Jazz continue what one player termed, "the worst month of the season."

"I'm not too crazy about the preseason - never have been," said Malone. "The only thing is that you get to play against other guys than you've been practicing with. You get more excited to play against someone else."

The Jazz took 13 players on the Chicago trip. Guards Delaney Rudd and Eric Johnson were home nursing a broken nose and bruised heel, respectively. Center Alan Bannister has a sprained knee and also didn't make the trip. Starting center Mark Eaton, meanwhile, had a slight back problem and didn't practice Friday morning, but was expected to be ready for tonight's contest.

The Jazz follow tonight's game with a Sunday contest (6:30 p.m.) at Nashville against the Bulls. Their first home exhibition game will be Oct. 16 in the Salt Palace against Phoenix.