"Why," said John Stockton in mock disgust to Karl Malone, "do I have to sit by you every night?"
Stockton, who had just completed his share of post-game interviews following the Jazz's 103-94 win over Minnesota Sunday night, was looking for a little space in the dressing room. Instead he found himself hemmed in on all sides by media, waiting to talk to the Mailman.Malone wasn't about to let Stockton's comment pass. "You sit by me because I love you and you love me."
Have you ever seen such a happy family? Really.
Two nights after Malone lambasted some teammates for being nice guys who can't play, everybody is back and happy, at least for now. Malone has made his reparations (see accompanying story), Thurl Bailey is out of his slump, and the Jazz have broken a four-game losing streak.
"It seems like a long time since we won," said Stockton. "We're a little more used to winning more often. We needed a win."
For the Jazz, nothing could have been a more welcome sight than the Timberwolves. The teams have met six times since the Wolves came into the league, and Utah has won every time. It is a team that doesn't run too much, likes the half-court game, and doesn't have a lot of talent in the middle.
Just what the Jazz were looking for.
Stockton got 22 points, Malone 24 and the Jazz improved their record to 3-5.
Monday at the Bradley Center Arena, Utah takes on the Milwaukee Bucks, a tougher order. Utah won both games against Milwaukee last season, but the Bucks are gliding along with a 6-3 record and challenging for the leading the Central Division.
The Jazz could be excused for savoring a win over Minnesota far more than they needed to. After an overtime loss to Orlando and a 25-point defeat in Boston, the Wolves looked as inviting as beachfront property. The Jazz didn't care who the victim was.
Minnesota is a young team that has a long way to go, and a good team to help you break a slump. Anybody that lists Tony Campbell as its best player isn't going to be terribly dangerous.
Having "name" players, of course, isn't Minnesota's strong suit. When a Twin Cities reporter asked Malone about former University of Minnesota rookie Richard Coffey, Malone said, "Who?"
"Coffey," said the reporter. "Did he show you anything tonight?"
"I don't know who you're talking about," said Malone politely.
"He was out there guarding you (for nine minutes)," the reporter added.
Malone smiled and shook his head.
Of course, nobody should have impressed the Mailman on this night. He finished 8-13 from the field and 8-9 from the free throw line.
For the first time this season, the Jazz got out to a healthy lead and hung on. Eight minutes into the game they were ahead 18-11. Halfway through, after fending off a couple of good runs by Minnesota that tied the score, the Jazz were back up 51-37.
"The thing about tonight is that we got after them from the opening," said Malone. "We stopped them on defense and we had good shot selection."
Which the Jazz weren't doing before.
With the Wolves' Tod Murphy out with an ankle injury, the problem of stopping Malone fell on veteran Bob Thornton. It was a bad assignment. He and Sam Mitchell did hold Malone to 13 points in the first half, but that was largely the Jazz's doing. Malone took only four field goal attempts in the first half, making them all. Other times he was shooting free throws. By the time the game was three minutes gone, Thornton had two fouls on him. By half it was up to three.
When Malone wasn't drawing fouls, he was dishing off. He had five assists in the first half, eight for the game, which didn't bother Mark Eaton. Eaton finished with seven points, six coming on dunk shots via Malone passes.
"Malone's very tough on the low block," said the Wolves' Tyrone Corbin. "He's one of the best guys in the league when he gets the ball where he wants to get it. He's either making it, getting fouled, or sometimes both."
In one first-half run, the Jazz scored 12 unanswered points to go up 45-31.
Meanwhile, after skipping practice on Saturday and the shoot-around on Sunday, the Jazz appeared more rested than they have since the start of the season. This time, they never hit the wall.
"Their bodies seemed so much more alive," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan. "They were alive in Orlando, but our execution wasn't so good."
After building the lead to 20 in the third quarter, the Jazz allowed Minnesota to creep back to within nine, but never closer. Thurl Bailey's finger roll with 2:58 to go put the Jazz back up by 11. Malone scored down low and Bailey added two free throws with 1:05 remaining to keep the Wolves at a safe distance.
Bailey's 18-point performance marked his best game since he matched that Nov. 8 against San Antonio. After languishing through an 11-43 shooting slump, he produced six baskets in 10 attempts and added a 6-for-7 free-throw effort.
"You have to look basically at where the shots are coming from," said Bailey last week. "I'm as guilty as anyone for the shot selecion. We've taken shots that shouldn't be taken. Once you take the right shots, shooting isn't something that should be a major concern."
The Jazz shot 55 percent from the field after shooting 43 percent for their first seven games.
Following the game against the Bucks on Monday, the Jazz return home. After playing seven of their first nine games away from Salt Lake, they will finally settle into a routine. That begins with a Wednesday game against Orlando.