The season's first trip into Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood was a memorable, if not pleasant, experience for the Utah Jazz. After a slow start, The Admiral of San Antonio, David Robinson, came back to record his third straight triple-double at home. Along with him, five other Spur players scored in double figures. It ended with stands emptying fast and the Spurs trying out their practice passes.
Meanwhile, Karl Malone had an off night, scoring 20 points, but making only six of 23 field goal attempts. But he did get to rough up a pinata that had his number pinned to its shirt. Other than that, it wasn't a dominating kind of game. The second matchup between the Monsters of the Midwest ended with the Spurs running away, 112-92, Saturday night at HemisFair Arena.Now that the Jazz have taken their punishment on the road, they can set up for a night in their home town. The two teams meet again Tuesday in the Salt Palace for their third matchup of the year. The final two games will be Feb. 18 in Salt Lake and March 11 in San Antonio.
"It gets really frustrating missing shots you normally make," said Malone, who missed no fewer than eight inside shots. "We are looking forward to playing them at home."
Until then, the Jazz can ponder how they managed to get beaten up so badly. Certainly, with the talent the Spurs have, it was a possibility. But with the Jazz lurking just one game back in the standings (going into Saturday's game), the importance of playing well wasn't lost.
"That's the best team I've seen all year," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan.
With starting center Mark Eaton out, the Jazz knew coming in they didn't have their complete arsenal. But the Spurs had their own absentee player. Forward Terry Cummings, who has now missed four games due to lower back soreness, didn't play.
So all things being equal, the odds on the Jazz winning in San Antonio weren't good. The Spurs have won the last five games and 10 of the last 13 played in the Texas city.
The Jazz have done equally well at the Salt Palace, where they have defeated the Spurs 13 consecutive times. They'll go for No. 14 when the teams meet Tuesday in Salt Lake.
In Eaton's absence, Mike Brown and rookie Dan O'Sullivan took their turns guarding Robinson, producing an impressive defensive showing in the first half. At the end of the first quarter, Robinson had only one point, and the Spurs clung to a one-point lead. At the half he had upped his total to just six points.
But in in the second half the Jazz came unraveled. The Spurs stepped up their defensive effort and their quicker players and deeper bench began to take their toll. Robinson scored 10 in the third quarter and finished with 22 points and 18 rebounds.
The performance moved Sloan, rarely given to superlatives, to say, "I don't know if there's a greater player in America. I've never seen a player so active and yet so big in there."
Robinson's performance came after a minor pre-game tiff, in which Malone came to grips with a promotional pinata that had been prepared to appear as the Mailman himself. Spotting it, he reportedly dragged it into the dressing room and damaged it. This was particularly bad news to one San Antonio resident named Mark Huffman, who stood to win $450 in the promotion, had he broken the pinata at mid-court during halftime.
"That's bull-- (for promotions people) to do that," said Sloan after the game. "I think it's degrading to a basketball player to do that."
Malone would only expound on the situation by saying, "It's a heck of a job you have if that's all you have to do. I think it's very unprofessional. If that's all you've got to do for a living, he needs to find a new job."
Malone's job was looking good in the early minutes as the Jazz took a a 15-7 lead. The most impressive play included a hammer slam by Malone over Robinson off a fast break. "It kinda shook me up a little when he first dunked on me," said Robinson.
But the quick Jazz start only served to get the Spurs involved. By the time the quarter had ended, they had moved ahead 25-24.
The Spurs threatened to break the game open in the second period on a 28-9 run that put them ahead 55-39. They took a 58-48 lead into the locker room at halftime.
By the time the second half got going, Malone was starting to have serious troubles. He missed four straight inside shots while the Spurs were off on 10-2 run. The defense that held Robinson to six first-half points began breaking down.
"I played really good (on Robinson) the first half," said Brown. "The second half they just got going a little better as a team and that opened up a few easy shots and a couple of dunks - that got them going."
The lead widened to 27 points in the fourth quarter, before all the subs went in to finish up.
Besides Robinson, San Antonio got double-figure scoring from Sean Elliott , Rod Strickland , Willie Anderson , Paul Pressey and Sidney Green .
Jeff Malone led the Jazz with 22, while Brown added 10.
The rout left the Jazz with little option but to look forward to returning to Salt Lake. "The next one is really an important one," said Robinson. "Especially because we might end up playing them in the playoffs and we've got to be able to win up there."
Asked by a reporter what he plans to do in the meantime, Sloan smiled. "I plan to go back to Salt Lake and forget about it." Sometimes a visit to the wrong neighborhood can spoil a perfectly good trip.
Game Notes: Jazz trainer Don Sparks said Mark Eaton, who missed Friday's game against Dallas due to "flu-like" symptoms, may be ready to return in time for Tuesday's rematch with the Spurs. Eaton flew home from Dallas on Friday for tests. "We don't have all the blood work in, but they (doctors) felt it is probably some sort of low-grade viral infection," said Sparks. "He (Eaton) said he felt a little better today and hopefully he'll be better by Tuesday."