In hopes of extending their winning streak to four games, the Utah Jazz make their final road trip before the All-Star break when they face the Minnesota Timberwolves, Tuesday night at the Target Center.
Although the Jazz are expected to beat Minnesota - a team mired 16 games out of first place in the Midwest Division - the Jazz have a few problems this year with teams of lesser stature. Utah's road record is 10-11, and includes losses to such marginal concerns as Indiana, Orlando and Denver. When they met in Minneapolis last November, the Jazz took a 103-94 win, holding off a strong finish by the Timberwolves. On Nov. 30 in Salt Lake, Utah had an easier time, beating the Wolves 96-79.The game will be aired at 6 p.m. (MST) on TNT.
If playing Minnesota isn't usually a big problem - the Jazz have won all seven games since the Timberwolves entered the league - the timing of this contest could be. After Tuesday's game, the Jazz follow with a Wednesday home game against old rival Phoenix. "You gotta come out and play whoever. Hopefully we'll worry about Minnesota before we get to Phoenix," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "They've (Minnesota) always given us a dogfight."
The status of Jazz guard Jeff Malone remains questionable. The team's No. 2 scorer (19.5 ppg) missed practice again Monday due to a pulled groin. Although Malone indicated last week that he would like to be ready to play at Minnesota, team coaches and trainers say they won't take chances. "We anticipated he might be ready, but we won't take any chances if he's having any problems at all," said Sloan. It was decided Monday that Malone would not make the trip.
Minnesota, 15-28, has played respectably since changing its approach and speeding up its game. In the first 26 games, the Wolves were 7-19; since then they are 8-9. Sunday they took a double overtime win over Philadelphia, giving them two wins in their last three games. Tony Campbell, recently off the injured list, has been cast in a reserve role. In his last five outings he has made only 30 percent of his shots.
One of the key matchups will between Utah's John Stockton and Minnesota's Pooh Richardson. In their two head-to-head matchups this year, Richardson is averaging 22.5 points and 11 assists, while Stockton has averaged 16.5 points and 12.5 assists.
- Brad Rock