Three weeks, 12 games and over 25,000 miles later, the Utah Jazz have finally, maybe, put the Japan Trip behind them. They're still talking about it, and who knows if they're still feeling it. But now they're winning, which they haven't done regularly since before they ever set eyes on the Ginza district and Mt. Fuji.
Saturday night at Reunion Arena the Jazz weathered an atrocious second-quarter slump and pulled away at the end, to take an 85-74 win over the Dallas Mavericks."I can't remember second quarters," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan, "because I'm still thinking about Japan. I wake up thinking about that place."
Maybe his nightmares will subside now. The win was the Jazz's third in a row - their longest win streak of the season - and ended a grueling run of nine games in 14 days. The Jazz are now off until Wednesday night when they meet Houston in the Salt Palace. They evened their record at 6-6, while Dallas fell to 5-6.
"It feels re-e-e-e-al good to me," said Jazz forward Karl Malone, after leading the Jazz with a 27-point night. "To be .500 is like having a new season."
For all the Jazz's concerns about the jet lag brought on by a wicked November road schedule, they surely wouldn't trade spots with the sad Mavericks. During the off-season, Dallas made strides towards becoming a serious threat, obtaining Rodney McCray, Alex English and Fat Lever. Instead, the Mavs are looking more like a bad episode of General Hospital.
Problems began to spring up almost immediately after the year began. While the Jazz were logging big frequent flier miles, the Mavericks were counting stitches. First, Fat Lever, suffering from a knee inflammation, learned he needed arthroscopic surgery, and that he would be out as much as five weeks. Next to go down was star Roy Tarpley, who tore knee ligaments; he's gone for the season.
The loss of Tarpley really shook Mavericks' Coach Richie Adubato, who compared the loss to the how Chicago would feel without Michael Jordan.
Latest in the hit parade is swingman Herb Williams, who is still walking, but barely. Williams is playing these days with a contusion under his right kneecap.
And the Jazz thought they had problems.
The result of two teams with serious complaints was predictable. In the awful second quarter, Utah shot 22 percent, making just four of 18 shots. Dallas merely lumbered around all night, never rising up enough to even get a sniff at making half its shots.
"Basically, everything seemed to be in slow motion," said the Mavs' Rolando Blackman.
"I never thought I'd see a team that had people telling me they looked like they were running in mud," said Sloan.
The Jazz got off to a tremendous start, building a 10-0 lead in the first 3 1/2 minutes. But Dallas struggled back, led by Blackman's efforts. The Jazz took a 22-15 lead into the second quarter, but, as usual, it wasn't nearly enough. Utah went one minute at the end of the first quarter and a shocking 6 1/2 minutes into the second without scoring a point.
"We looked like we were in a diving contest and you get points for the degree of difficulty in the shot," said Sloan.
By the time the Jazz did score, they had given the Mavericks a 25-22 lead. From then on the teams settled in to see which was hurting worse. In this case, hospital time graded out worse than jet lag.
Dallas went ahead by four once in the third period, but with Utah behind 51-48 with 4:22 left, Malone got rolling. He made a layup and two free throws to put Utah ahead by one, then made two more shortly after, to give the Jazz a 58-55 lead. Dallas never led again.
"What happened," explained Adubato, "was that Karl Malone decided to score three or four in a row in the low post. We couldn't stop him. It was a poorly played game. Two very tired teams. Down the wire, Karl Malone and Jeff Malone took over."
The other Malone, Jeff, quietly turned in another good night, scoring 17 points. He spread his scoring almost evenly over the quarters, but also played a respectable floor game. His biggest contributions were a layup with 55 seconds to go in the game and three free throws down the stretch to put the game out of reach.
Meanwhile, Blue Edwards contiued to build confidence, scoring 12 points. Thurl Bailey finished with 13 points off the bench.
Dallas saw its hopes expire as the Jazz moved up by 11 with 14 seconds left.
"Basically," continued Blackman, "Utah did not play all that well, either. It was just the worst of the worst."
Though the long early season grind is over, and though they are reacquainting themselves with winning, the promised Big Jazz Machine still isn't in full gear yet. "Not yet," said Jazz guard John Stockton, who had 16 assists."It wasn't the prettiest, but we won, and that's all that matters."
Notes: Sloan is five wins away from his 200th career coaching victory . . . Utah is one win short of 600 victories as a franchise . . . the 68 points in the first half is a two-team record low in a Dallas game . . . Utah's 11 second-quarter points were a record low in that period for a Mavericks' opponent . . . Blackman needs eight points to become the Mavericks' all-time leading scorer.
- Saturday marked John Stockton's 500th game as a Jazz player.
- Darrell Griffith is 3 steals short of 900 for his career.
- Stockton needs just three assists to move into 18th place on all-time NBA list.
- Thurl Bailey has now played in 277 consecutive games, 5th longest streak in the NBA.