The Washington Bullets came to Salt Lake City Monday after an air scare in which their plane's engine shut down. The Jazz beat them by 34 points. The Detroit Pistons came to town Wednesday after playing the Lakers the night before, and the Jazz beat them by 21.
Friday night, it was the Lakers' turn. They found themselves in the Salt Palace hoarding an eight-game win streak but having played Detroit Tuesday and in Minnesota Thursday.The Lakers, too, found themselves blown out of the water by the Jazz, 101-79, their lowest score and worst loss of the season and probably their worst all-around performance, too.
Utah Coach Jerry Sloan had no sympathy for any of them. "There wasn't any for us," he snorted.
You take what you get in the NBA.
"The thing you've got to remember," said Sloan, "is how people caught us when we got back from Japan. That was one of the toughest times I've ever been through as a coach.
"Teams beat us in those situations," Sloansaid. "We can't worry about what other teams have to do."
It was not the Laker team Salt Palace fans are used to seeing against the Jazz.
The back-to-back games were "pretty heavy," said Magic Johnson, who finished with a stronger second half after shooting 3-for-8 in the first half and led the Lakers with 20 points and nine rebounds (Mychal Thompson also had nine rebounds).
"We just couldn't get up emotionally. We were in slow motion," said Johnson, ticking off recent tough games - Phoenix, Detroit, Utah. "We were drained emotionally," he said.
"I thought we were just fatigued, so we settled for standing around a lot," said Johnson, noting that a stationary offense can't do much against the Jazz's low defense from Mark Eaton and Karl Malone. "If you don't move body and ball against them, you'll be in trouble," Johnson said.
"They played totally as a team," he said.
"Utah played a great game all-around," agreed Laker Coach Mike Dunleavy. He said the Minnesota game may have been a factor in the Lakers' malaise, mainly because the Timberwolves' style kept the game close enough that he had to leave his main players in longer than he wanted.
It took the Jazz less than two minutes to begin taking advantage of the other problem the Lakers had beside fatigue. That was a flu-like illness that came upon forward Sam Perkins in the second half of Thursday's game. Dunleavy wasn't sure Perkins could play Friday, but he wanted to.
Against Karl Malone.
"To play a guy like Malone, physically you've got to be feeling really good, because you're not going to feel good after," said Dunleavy.
"Even when you're feeling kinda good, it's hard to contain him," said Perkins. "I didn't feel that well. That compounded the problem."
Malone made two 18-footers for a 4-0 Jazz lead, then moved in for a layup and a Perkins foul at 10:18 of the first quarter. A minute later, it was another layup, and it was a 9-4 lead. Malone had 11 points the first quarter, then cooled down to six in the second. He had 27 for the game.
"Well, I didn't stop him," said Perkins. "It was just containment from the team."
The Lakers had, after all, been a team that was playing defense in the same range as the Jazz, who've held opponents under 80 points in three of their last seven games and under 100 in seven of the last nine games.
Defense was the thing that bought them the eight-game win streak after starting out 2-5 with a new coach and several new players. At first, said Dunleavy, the Lakers didn't have much chance to practice - sound familiar? The Jazz had the same problem - and they allowed teams to shoot 50 percent or better against them while they shot 45. After getting to practice, they began holding teams under 45 percent accuracy.
"Until tonight," Dunleavy said. The Jazz shot 50.6 percent, the Lakers 43. "I hope it's just one of those nights," said Dunleavy, who knew he hadn't solved all his team's problems in the win streak and expects the transition from Pat Reilly to Mike Dunleavy to take a couple more months to complete.
"We weren't as good with our effort tonight. It could be the travel or Sam Perkins being sick," said Dunleavy.
"Basically, it was an off-night," said Perkins.
"I don't want to hear about other peoples' situations," said Sloan. "Our team has gone through as tough a time as anybody. We have to try to take advantage."