As the Jazz continued on their course toward the NBA playoffs Friday night, they stopped by Reunion Arena long enough to dispatch the Dallas Mavericks, 93-87. (Hold your applause until after the performance, please.) It was nothing for posterity to remember. Rather, it was a late-season contest between two hard-pressed teams - one hard-pressed to finish out a dim season with its pride intact; another hard-pressed to get out of bed in the mornings.
One more road game gone, three left for the Jazz, who appear ready to end the year the way they began: tired, slow and unable to alter the effects of jet lag and night work."It's frustrating to go out there and not have any energy," said Jazz forward Karl Malone. "It seemed like we were playing off instincts at times. I don't know.
"It's a situation where you go out and play, and hopefully you get it done. This is the tough part of the season. I guess you just keep trying."
These are strange times for the Jazz. Malone, who generally considers bench time worse than a communicable disease, is even admitting fatigue. The Jazz have nine games left, and remain a game behind the Spurs in the race for the Midwest Division title. In the last two games they have started quickly, only gear down into slow motion and allow the opposition to get back.
"I think we're coming around," the Mailman said. "We're not there yet, but I can see us starting to get some life. I don't know where it's coming from . . . but I guess it's just a lot of heart."
"We couldn't keep our concetration," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan. "I don't know if it's fatigue, or what."
For the second consecutive game, the Jazz found themselves trying to put away a team destined for an early summer vacation. The win officially eliminated Dallas from playoff contention (though for all intents and purposes, that happened long ago).
But with 22 seconds left in the contest, the Jazz were still wondering if they were going to survive. Rolando Blackman's three-pointer pulled Dallas within four and the Jazz, who had lost the ball on their last in-bounds play, watched the clock like kids awaiting recess. Finally the Mailman found Mark Eaton open for a slam with 13 seconds to go, sealing the victory.
Although the Jazz left the arena wondering what kind of game they'll play tonight at Houston, they knew things could always be worse. The Mavericks have been through the kind of tragic season season only a Greek playwrite could love. It began with injuries to key players Roy Tarpley and Fat Lever, and is ending with headlines about Tarpley's DWI arrest.
Maverick players have missed 173 games this season due to illness and injury, the latest being Friday's when starter Rodney McCray bowed out. McCray had been listed to play, but strained his right quadricep during the team's Friday shoot-around.
Last Saturday Tarpley, who played in only five games before being injured for the year, was arrested and later charged with driving while intoxicated. On Friday Tarpley was placed on indefinite suspension without pay for non-compliance with his personalized aftercare program. Tarpley is a two-time offender in the NBA's anti-drug program.
As the Mavericks struggle simply to get to the end of the season, the Jazz have a few less serious demons of their own. Although Karl and Jeff Malone had fine scoring nights - Karl had 31 and Jeff 23 - every basket was needed.
Utah burst to a 10-point lead in the first quarter, but soon things were out of sync. The Jazz made three straight turnovers and Dallas was back within four. Although the Mailman was on his to a typically productive night - including 19 rebounds - the Jazz defense allowed the Mavericks to collect five first-quarter offensive rebounds, thus staying close.
A late third period run, though, gave the Jazz a badly needed boost. Leading 63-61, Utah awoke from an awful period to reel off seven straight points. From then on it was a matter of holding to the lead - which the Jazz barely managed.
Jeff Malone scored seven straight points in the mid-fourth quarter and the Jazz were ahead by nine. But desperation shots and a full court press kept the Mavericks close enough to still be alive with under a minute to go. Derek Harper's 18-footer with 37 seconds remaining fell away and later a Brad Davis shot was off, leaving the Mavericks to lose their eighth game in 11 outings.
"We just haven't been able to make the big shots or get the big rebound," said Mavs' Coach Richie Adubato. "Then their superstar beats us with a big night."
Dallas had four players score in double figures, led by Herb Williams with 19.
With the playoffs already out of the picture, the Mavericks are a team with nowhere to go but home. But the Jazz have to go to Houston, where they meet the title-contending Rockets.
Considering Dallas has won only 26 games all year, Friday night wasn't exactly a rousing sendoff for the Jazz.
"We should have gone in for the kill and we didn't do it," said Jeff Malone. "We definitely can't play that way tomorrow."
GAME NOTES John Stockton's 12 assists moved him past John Havlicek and into 13th place on the alltime NBA list . . . Jeff Malone scored 20 or more points for his third straight night . . . Karl Malone needs 103 points to become the second-leading scorer in Jazz history.