Once considered one of the prime contenders in the Midwest Division this year, the Dallas Mavericks have been a study in bad luck. The NBA's very own version of General Hospital is having trouble just getting through roll call these days.

Thursday night in the Salt Palace, the battle-scarred Mavericks put up a determined fight, but came away short, as the Jazz took a 110-102 victory.It was a rag-tag entourage that arrived in Salt Lake Thursday morning, thanks to some some Texas-sized problems. Starter Herb Williams has been on the injured list since Dec. 18 with bursitis in his knee. Center Roy Tarpley, a big key to the Mavericks' plans, is out for the duration with a knee injury. Fat Lever, the much-acclaimed guard acquired from Denver, was activated on Monday just so the team wouldn't dip below the NBA-required limit of 11 players. Of course, Lever, who has been out with a knee injury since the start of the year, is still nowhere near ready to play. He isn't supposed to begin practicing until around Jan. 1.

This is a year for excused absences. Coach Richie Adubato wasn't even in attendance against the Jazz. He left for Dallas Thursday afternoon to attend the birth of his baby boy. That left the Mavericks with 10 warm bodies, two assistant coaches, and a major problem: Karl Malone.

The Jazz's Mailman scored 35 points and took down 11 rebounds to lead the team to their 16th win in the last 21 games, making 12 of 16 field goal attempts. Meanwhile, forward Thurl Bailey produced nine rebounds and 10 points in the final period, as the Jazz weathered a late-game Mavericks' run to improve their record to 18-10.

Although the Jazz never trailed after an early second-quarter rally, they never appeared completely secure, either. They outscored the Mavs 11-5 during the second quarter to extend their lead to 14, but saw that squeezeddown to four before the third period had ended, and to one with 10:19 left to go in the game.

"We had a chance to win," said assistant coach Bob Zuffelato. "We just couldn't make a couple of threes and their second shots hurt us in the fourth quarter."

Most of the Mavericks' problems, though, boiled down to Malone. He began the game by making his first six shots and totaling 14 points in the first quarter. After a quiet second period, in which he barely touched the ball and put up only one shot, he rolled back into action with a 14-point third quarter. The Mavericks' designated heavies assigned to stop Malone - Rodney McCray and Randy White - picked up five fouls apiece. With them in trouble inside, nobody was ever really effective at stopping Malone.

"We had our problems containing Karl tonight, but who doesn't?" said the Mavericks' Derek Harper. "Their offense is to push the ball in to him and when they get it to him, it is tough to stop."

Perhaps the best (only?) deterrent to Malone scoring came when Coach Jerry Sloan, who had the Mailman on the bench for 12 minutes total, gave him a rest. "Coach knows what's best," said Malone dutifully. "I don't even question it."

While Malone was having his way on the inside, Dallas' Derek Harper was doing the same from the outside, totaling 32 points, including four three-pointers. Harper and veteran Alex English led the way to an 18-11 first-quarter Dallas lead, bit Malone led a 10-0 run that brought the Jazz back. Harper scored 10 quick points in the third quarter to close what was once a 13-point Jazz lead to five. But, sensing the Mavericks' shortness of personnel, the Jazz showed an impressive variety of shooters. Besides Bailey, who keyed the stretch run, Blue Edwards had probably his best night since breaking his nose 15 games back, scoring 13 points. "I feel normal again," he said.

Jeff Malone chipped in 19 points that kept the Mavericks from simply collapsing in on Karl.

Dallas closed the Jazz lead to 87-86 with 10:19 left in the final period, but Bailey scored six straight Jazz points to lead them back out to a 93-88 lead. John Stockton, who had 16 assists, wrapped it up with an inside pass to Bailey for a finger roll to put the Jazz ahead 107-100 with 50 seconds remaining.

Although the Jazz prevailed, Coach Jerry Sloan said he saw some holiday blahs amidst his ranks. "Our bodies have not been alive like we were for one stretch," he said. "We've got to go back and get to where we were. There's a lot of things going on this time of year, and it's something we've got to work out."

However, having completed his appointed rounds on schedule, the Mailman was having none of it. "I don't worry about stuff like that (distractions)," he said. "It can be an easy excuse if you want it to."

Game Notes: The Jazz's newest addition, Dan O'Sullivan, was expected to be at team practice on Friday . . . Utah has won 10 of its last 13 games . . . Although neither team was especially sharp, both shot over .500 from the floor. Jazz opponents have done that only seven of 28 games this year . . . The Jazz have won five of the last six with the Mavericks.