By midafternoon Monday, the Jazz and Spurs were all even - in more ways than one.
Utah's 104-81 (yawn) victory over San Antonio pulled the Jazz even in the Midwest Division race for the first time all season. They also evened the score in the "in-yo-face" department, at least as far as the Spurs were concerned."They were almost making fun of us out there," complained Larry Brown. "They'd get a rebound and bang it on the backboard. It was a joke."
Spurs forward Sean Elliott agreed with his coach, saying, "It was a slap in the face. At times it looked like they were trying to embarrass us."
Over on the Jazz side there was a different perspective. When told of Brown's comments, coach Jerry Sloan acted surprised.
"I hope our guys didn't do that. I'd be disappointed if they did something like that. But obviously when you're getting your butt kicked you have a tendency to feel that way."
Then Sloan added, "If I'm not mistaken, they tuned us up pretty good down at their place."
Karl Malone, who can be a hot dog even in a close game, remembered that Jan. 12 game when the Spurs cruised to a 112-92 win.
"When they had us by 20 at their place . . . same thing," shrugged Malone. "We've got to play those guys again, so it's not a matter of toying with them. If I bump the ball on the backboard, hey, that's just the way I play."
David Robinson, always one of the classiest people in the league, wasn't bothered by any supposed antics of the Jazz. "When you're up by that much, you kind of deserve to be able to do that stuff," he said. "We just didn't execute real well today."
You could say that again, at least coach Brown did. And he didn't blame any talent disparity, even though the Spurs' starting lineup consisted of two third-year players, two second-year players, including one Avery Johnson at point guard, and rookie Dwayne Schintzius at center.
"I don't think we competed tonight," said Brown. "This was a big game, but it was obvious one team wanted it and the other wanted to go home."
With the Jazz facing 10 of their next 11 games on the road, their stay at the top of the division may be short-lived. Sloan said the most significant thing about Monday's game wasn't the Jazz moving into a tie for first or getting a psychological advantage on the Spurs.
"If it happens to end in a tie, then we would have the edge in the tiebreaker," he said. "That's the most important thing about this game as far as I'm concerned."
Even though Terry Cummings should be back within a week and Rod Strickland sometime before the end of the season, Brown didn't sound too hopeful about his own team.
"I don't think it's tied up," said Brown of the Midwest Division race. "I think we're way behind if this is any indication."