Things aren't getting much brighter for the Utah Jazz as the exhibition season progresses. First, there were two games against Chicago and Michael Jordan. Nothing like starting off against the zillionnaire most likely to beat you alone. Then came Phoenix and Jeff Hornacek, still as long-range deadly as he was when the Suns shot the Jazz out of the playoffs last spring. Next it was Boston and Larry Bird, a player Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan says is so crafty "he likes to mess with your head."
The latest in the hit parade was Philadelphia and Charles Barkley, a guy who never saw a bruise he didn't like. Barkley delivered two big hits in a row to the Jazz, without interruption.Wednesday night in the Salt Palace, Barkley scored 33 points as the Sixers dropped the Jazz 103-101. For two nights work against the Jazz, Barkley has 68 points and two wins to show for it. The Jazz have six straight exhibition losses.
Things aren't critical, but they aren't hunky-dory, either. Not only are the Jazz losing; they're shooting free throws poorly enough to prompt Sloan to observe that his players are performing like, well, corpses. Jeff Malone, this year's new ingredient, could do no better than 5-15 from the field on Wednesday. Karl Malone missed seven of 10 free throws. Even reliable John Stockton had his troubles, making just four of 11 field goal attempts.
Although the ways of losing have been varied, the results have been the same. Where the Jazz may have lost its early games because they were trying out young players, that time has come and gone. Now they're going mostly with veterans, and still no soap.
"I'm not going to sit here and tell you guys that we don't worry about it, because we do," said Karl Malone.
Through the first quarter Wednesday night, the Jazz struggled to hold their own. After that they struggled just to catch up. Throughout most of the night they shot poorly, especially from the free throw line, making just 55 percent of their attempts. "That's just a little bit better than a bunch of dead guys," said Sloan.
The second period put the Jazz behind to stay. Utah went nearly five minutes without scoring a field goal, and at the same time went through a horrendous spell of free throw shooting, missing five of six in one span. "I'll just point it right out; I just missed too many free throws," said Karl Malone.
As inconsistent as the Jazz were, Barkley was the opposite, scoring 11 points in each of the first three quarters. He even found time in between baskets to smile and roll his eyes at some of the calls made by officials. "We're not playing these games to break a sweat. We don't like losing," said Barkley later. "When you lose it becomes a mental thing and we don't want that."
While Barkley was enjoying the moment, the other half of the Bruise Brothers, Rick Mahorn, was in an ill mood. He and Karl Malone woofed so vigorously at one another in the first period that they drew a double-technical. In the third period Mahorn drew another technical and was ejected from the game.
However, Mahorn was only a sideshow to Barkley. By the mid-second quarter the Jazz could see the bindings snap. Philly's lead sprang from two points to 14, punctuated by two breakaway slams by Barkley near the end of the half. In the third period the lead got up to 17 points.
Utah finally got its chance in the end. Thanks largely to a trapping press in the late going, Utah forced several turnovers that turned into baskets. But Stockton missed the second of two free throws with 45 seconds remaining and the Jazz down 102-101. Hawkins' free throw for the Sixers with 30 seconds to go completed the scoring.
Karl Malone missed two free throws with 2:12 to go and the Jazz trailing 102-94.
Stockton got off a desperate 24-foot shot at the buzzer, but it fell away.
"It shouldn't have even come down to that," lamented Karl Malone. "I'm not talking about what everyone else did; I'm talking about what Karl Malone did. It wasn't a last-second thing. It's the things I didn't do. I missed seven free throws, - two at crunch time. You can't look at the last play of the game . . . I just didn't get it done."