After two games of intensity and emotion last week, it went without saying that the Jazz would have trouble getting ready to play the New Jersey Nets. One of the best ways in the NBA to cure insomnia is to attend a game involving New Jersey, immediately after playing a contender.
Saturday night in the Salt Palace, the Jazz slogged their way through 48 minutes of semi-lethargy, finally establishing a late third-quarter lead before cruising in with a 111-103 win over the Nets.The win, Utah's third in a row, had the dog-eared look of someone struggling to get through the final week before the All-Star break.
That the Jazz would have trouble with the Nets came as no particular surprise to Coach Jerry Sloan, who suspected something during Saturday's pre-game shootaround. Consequently, he told the team they weren't looking sharp.
"Yeah, I was a little concerned," said Sloan. He continued, "I've been in this league a long time. You know the players and the team, and you pretty much know what's going to happen."
True to his suspicions, the Jazz found themselves trailing 12-5 before the game was six minutes gone. Seven minutes out, they were down 22-13.
If the Jazz were not exactly roaring out the gate, at least it was predictable. After losing three of four games, they came back early in the next week to beat Atlanta and Portland. "I think maybe after beating Portland, and with New Jersey coming in, maybe you don't think they're capable (of beating you)," said Jazz forward Thurl Bailey. "At least maybe subconsciously you think that. I don't think you do it purposely, but sometimes it shows in the start of the game."
Bailey continued, "Jerry can tell. Nine out of 10 times when he says he feels it (the team is lethargic), it happens. And he told us."
By merely statistical indications, Saturday was a very good performance. The Jazz shot a fine 58 percent from the field and 87 percent from the line. They out-rebounded the Nets by four (38-34) and played respectable defense. "If you don't defend, you don't win," said Sloan.
While the assembled crowd appeared to be fairly indifferent to the Nets, one of the league's more non-descript products (not counting No. 1 draft choice Derrick Coleman and their tie-dyed road uniforms), the Jazz seemed to take their cue from the crowd. But after a first-half timeout, they came back and, thanks to their trapping pressure defense, closed the lead to one. But the Nets held on until Jazz took the lead for good at 47-46, when Mike Brown rumbled in for a layup with 3:59 to go in the half.
After Brown's layup, the Jazz went on to hold a 59-57 lead at the break. That the Jazz even had the lead was due largely to John Stockton's 16 points and Thurl Bailey's 14. "Thurl did a good job for us, especially in the first half," said Sloan. "The first half we did really well, but in the second half, we struggled."The Nets, led by veteran Reggie Theus (26 points), stayed within a point, but for the last 4 1/2 minutes of the third quarter, were outscored 12-4. The Jazz run put the Jazz ahead 83-74, and the Nets never got closer than a six-point deficit.
Coleman's three-point play with 3:28 to go in the game brought the Nets to a 99-93 deficit, but moments later, Karl Malone drew a foul, after which Mookie Blaylock was hit with a technical. John Stockton sank the technical and Malone two free throws, and the Jazz were never threatened again.
Malone, who topped the Jazz with the quietest 32 points and 12 rebounds he may have had all year, was making no excuses for the Jazz's lack of intensity.
"You can say it's hard to go out and do it every night, but look at L.A." he said. "They think they're going to win every game, every night."
John Stockton finished the game with 26 points and 13 assists, while Bailey and Griffith scored 18 and 10, respectively, off the bench.
"If we want to win a championship, then we have to come out every night and play," said Griffith.
Meanwhile, Nets' Coach Bill Fitch was relatively pleased with his team's effort. "These guys (the Jazz) aren't going to lose too many games here, so when you look at the quality of the game and how competitive it was . . . we had a shot at it. That's the name of the game."
For the Jazz, the name of the game appeared to be just getting through the game without falling asleep.
GAME NOTES: Bailey's one shot block gave him 800 for his career . . . He has scored in double figures in eight of the last nine games . . . Utah finished its series with the Nets with two wins for the year . . . San Antonio's loss to Houston and Utah's win pulled the Jazz within two games of the Midwest Division lead . . . New Jersey's Mookie Blaylock scored 19 points after shooting 16 percent in the three previous games.