The Jazz's run through the also-rans of the NBA is turning out to be bad experience. A week ago it was Indiana that took the Jazz to task. Tuesday night, the so-so New York Knicks.
But Saturday night the Jazz proved themselves to be in a legitimate, honest-to-misery slump. This time it was the NBA's very own fast-serve basketball team, the Denver McNuggets. Michael Adams' two free throws and Kenny Battle's steal and slam-dunk with 3.8 seconds remaining gave the Nuggets a 120-115 win over the Jazz at McNichols Arena.For the record, the Jazz are now officially in the dumps, having lost three of their last four games and five of nine. They're finding themselves playing lesser teams and getting no relief. The last time the Jazz did this poorly was when they dropped four in a row early in the season.
"Seems like every time a team needs a win, they play us," said Jazz star Karl Malone.
Certainly the Nuggets needed a win. Although they came into the contest having won two in a row and four of the last six, they still only accounted for a sorry 10-30 record. Until the last week, most of their efforts had been geared towards fighting with Orlando to see who could stay out of last place in the Midwest Division. January was the only month to date they had won four games.
The rise in Denver's fortunes came despite the absence of star scorer Orlando Woolridge, who was placed on the injured list Dec. 28 after suffering a detached retina on his right eye. He has been training lightly, but isn't expected to return to action until some time in February.
Things started coming together on a larger scale for the Nuggets this week when they beat Minnesota and New York, back-to-back. The New York win came right after the Knicks had dismantled the Jazz by 15 in the Salt Palace. But the win over the Jazz was Denver's first victory over a winning team all year.
"It was good to beat the Knicks," said Adams, "but it was a little bit better to beat these guys (the Jazz). We know how good they are."
Meanwhile, the Jazz must be wondering . . . Their road record is now an unimpressive 10-11. Combinedwith San Antonio's win over Minnesota, they are 3 1/2 games out of first place. "We're not going to panic. I don't panic too easy," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan.
He continued, "We had some tough times at the first of the year and now. That's when you find out how tough you are."
Although Woolridge was gone from the Nuggets, the Jazz had injury problems of their own. Starting guard Jeff Malone pulled a groin muscle against Sacramento on Friday and didn't suit up against the Nuggets, leaving the starting chores to reserve Darrell Griffith. The last time Griffith started a game was when Malone had an injured elbow Nov. 11. Griffith went on to score a season-high 24 against the Rockets. Griffith finished with 14 points on Saturday.
The most encouraging sign the Jazz saw through the night was the emergence of rookie Andy Toolson, who came off the bench to score 13 points in 19 minutes. Malone and John Stockton carried the Jazz with 36 and 20 points, respectively.
The first half was a constant ebb and flow, brought on largely by the Nuggets up-tempo approach. Although the Jazz got up by as much as 10 points early, that quickly turned into a 51-42 Nuggets lead, thanks to the shooting of rookie Chris Jackson. But the Jazz went on a 10-2 run to set up a 55-55 tie at the break.
By the time the fourth quarter had rolled around, nobody had figured a way to stop Adams, who finished with 37 points. After he made two free throws, Reggie Williams tipped in a shot with 1:19 remaining for a 116-113 lead. Stockton then missed a layup and was off on a desperation three-pointer with 16 seconds left.
Stockton and Adams exchanged a pair of free throws each, leaving the Jazz down 118-115 and 6.7 remaining. But Battle intercepted a Bailey in-bounds pass and barged in with the winning shot.
In the final minute Stockton missed two shots and Malone missed on an inside attempt. "We had the shots but we didn't come away with anything that resembled a basket," said Sloan.
GAME NOTES: Stockton's nine assists moved him past Kareem Abdul Jabbar and into 14th place on the all-time NBA list.