Jeff Malone, as much as anyone, is wondering these days just what's going on with his temperamental right arm. For three-fourths of the game, it acts like it it's closed for the season. But the third quarter? Get out of the way.
Malone crowded in 14 points in the third quarter Friday night at the Salt Palace, to lead the Jazz to a 96-79 win over Minnesota. The victory, Utah's fifth in a row, moved the Jazz's record to 8-6 on the year, which is just one game off last year's pace.Malone's predicament reflects that of the whole Jazz team. Early in games he (as well as the team) has been shooting like he has the shakes. Then he suddenly comes to life and soon has the opposition look for the exits. Then he cools down for the finish.
"I don't understand," said Malone. "I have these terrible first halves, then a great third quarter. I have no theories. I guess I just want to get off to a good start, and I put pressure on myself. One of these days I'm going to pick it up and have a good first half. Maybe then I'll get 30."
As it was, Malone finished with a team-high 19.
It wasn't his first such performance. Malone has done the same several times this year. Only last Wednesday against Houston, he drifted through the game until the third period, then netted 10 quick ones.
Malone's Friday night highlight quarter begin like this: With the Jazz ahead 45-44, he took a running shot off the wrong foot, which, since it was the third period, decided to go in. Having done that, it was time to get hot. After a brief six-point scoring run by rookie Andy Toolson, Malone then scored 12 points in under four minutes. He followed his running shot with a 20-foot jumper, a 10-footer, one from the free throw line, an 18-footer on the left side, a 15-footer on the right angle, two free throws, and another basket from the right side. "Jeff had a nice run there," said Coach Jerry Sloan.
He wasn't alone. Toolson, who replaced the injured Blue Edwards in the starting lineup, did exactly what he was supposed to: he avoided any big screw-ups. Toolson got his first points on a layup in the first period and joined Malone to lead the Jazz in their 34-point third quarter, scoring six points in one minute. He made two free throws, a long one from the left corner and an open jumper on the right angle.
Toolson finished with eight points, five rebounds, two assists and just one turnover. The solid performance came a day after his wife gave birth to a daughter. "An eventful and exciting week," said Toolson.
Asked if the week has been a crash course in stress management, Toolson replied, "I've just tried to take it a day at a time and enjoy the ride."
The first quarter was what was a typically abysmal Jazz start. Although Minnesota made only nine of 21 shots, the Jazz made seven of 23. The lead changed hands eight times before Minnesota established a five-point lead.
The Jazz could have been worse, though. After 12 minutes they were trailing only 22-18.
Utah tied the score by scoring six straight points to open the second period. The Jazz later converted eight straight points, to go ahead 37-30.
However, the Jazz have proven they aren't comfortable with big leads. Minnesota ran off eight unanswered points of their own to go ahead by a point. Only Thurl Bailey's layup with 2.7 seconds left in the half kept the Jazz from trailing at the break.
Utah built its lead to 19 points, but allowed the Wolves to chip away throughout the final period.
While the Jazz were left wondering when they'll manage to play well early, the loss capped off a truly bad week for the Timberwolves. Besides losing three of four games, Thursday Billy McKinney, the team's director of player personnel, left the team. He had been at odds with Coach Bill Musselman for months.
After the Wolves' 107-92 loss to Portland on Thursday, players expressed dissatisfaction with Musselman's coaching philosophy.
The most vocal was guard Pooh Richardson, who found himself sitting on the bench during substantial portions of that game.
"I can play the game, so let me play," said Richardson, who was in only 21 minutes. "If you're not going to play me, then don't dress me. I respect the owners of the team so much, but this isn't right."
He continued, "I get no explanations from him (Musselman). Nobody tells me nothing. And don't tell me that you need to rest me because there's another game tomorrow night . . . People have been watching what's been happening but they've been keeping their mouths shut. I'm tired of keeping my mouth shut. I don't care. I couldn't care less. I want to win as much as anyone, but enough is enough."
Teammate Tony Campbell took a similar tack, saying, "I've had it up to here, man. I've got to talk to (Musselman) . . . There's some nasty steam coming off Pooh and I'm trying to stay calm. It's like a yo-yo, herky-jerky. Most teams stay with their go-go guys through all the ups and downs. I'm totally out of synch."
Musselman and Richardson were seen having a discussion outside the Wolves' dressing room Friday night before the Jazz game. Apparently they came to an agreement. Richardson and Campbell ended up playing 44 minutes apiece.
The Jazz now turn to Sunday's game in Portland against the hottest team in the league. Said Sloan, "I'm anxious to see how we do. They're a great team, and they know they are."
The Jazz know they're great too. Even if it is only during the third quarter.
GAME NOTES: Jazz forward Blue Edwards had surgery on his broken nose Friday. Team publicists say the break wasn't as severe as originally thought and that he could be practicing by Monday and playing as early as next Friday . . . Karl Malone had shot over .500 for six straight games (.622) prior to Friday's contest. But against the Wolves he was only 6-17 and finished with 16 points . . . The Jazz are 6-0 against Minnesota in their alltime series.