The Mailman wasn't smiling when someone asked him in a hotel lobby how he was doing. "Mmmmmm," he shrugged. "I'm doin'."
And so it goes with the Utah Jazz these days. All-NBA forward Karl Malone is mad and cranky (see sidebar). The team is shooting high school percentages from the field. And after hoping for two weeks that the long trip to Japan wouldn't affect them, they are finally ready to admit it: they're tired and angry.The start of 1990-91 isn't one the Jazz will remember fondly. Billed as a monster in the West, Utah is in fifth place, with a 2-5 record. Last year's best-shooting team in the league is limping along at 43 percent.
"I understand what these guys are going through," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan. "I've been through it."
Saturday night's 114-89 loss to Boston was the low point in an already low start on the season. Malone made Saturday's headlines by complaining that the Jazz bench wasn't producing and hinting that the team needed to consider making some trades. Sloan came out of the locker room and admitted the trip to the Land of the Rising Sun is still affecting his team.
"You ever fly on a plane 14 hours?" he said. "It's tough. It's been tough. These guys are young, and they're going through hell right now. They've had one day off in I don't know how long. They're having a tough time. But at the same time, they can't feel sorry for themselves," said Sloan.
Besides, they don't have time. The Jazz continue with their East/Midwest road swing today when they meet the Minnesota Timberwoves at 6 p.m. MST. The game will not be aired on TV.
The Wolves are playing decently, having built a 3-5 record, which is good enough to place them ahead of the Jazz in the standings.
However, in their last outing, Minnesota slowed it down on trigger-happy Denver enough to give the Nuggets their first win of the season, a 121-108 win on Thursday.
Leading the team is guard Tonie Campbell, averaging almost 24 points a game. The starting combination of Randy Breuer, Tyrone Corbin, Tod Murphy, Campbell and Pooh Richardson went a relatively decent 14-25 last year and is 3-4 this season. Overall, Minnesota is 3-4, including a 3-1 home record.
As for the Jazz's poor shooting, Sloan says that isn't an uncorrectable problem. "I think our guys understand they can't win when they take bad shots," said Sloan. "If we start taking good shots, the percentage will go up."
Sloan was optimistic, despite losing 102-99 to Orlando on Thursday, because the Jazz seemed to have more stamina than before. "It's the first time our guys really had their legs when they ran. Their actions and their bodies were better than I'd seen," said Sloan.
Then came the loss to Boston. More rubbery legs. More bad shots. More losing.
If the Jazz can get through this trip with a win or two, there is ample time to catch up. They have been on the road 17 of the last 23 days, but after the road trip winds up on Monday at Milwaukee, Utah can look forward to eight home games and only three road games in the next three weeks.
"I had high expectations, everybody did. But I think I'm realistic. There is not a thing I can do about the fact that this team is tired a little bit," said Sloan.
Concerning Malone's criticism of teammates on Friday, Sloan said, "I think everyone has to be aware of their job. But when things get bad, that's the way life is."