During a timeout with 2:17 left and the Jazz leading by 11, the man holding the purple and white sign made his move. He circled around the entire Salt Palace floor getting huge cheers from each section of the arena as he went by.
It wasn't one of the hundreds of "Beat L.A." signs so prevalent around the Palace for Saturday's nationally-televised game. His sign simply read "Thank you Denver."It referred, of course, to Denver's shocking 125-122 victory Friday night over San Antonio, which gave a whole new meaning to Saturday's Jazz-Laker game. Instead of merely fighting for a homecourt advantage in a playoff series with Phoenix, it meant that the Jazz were finally in control of their own destiny in regards to the Midwest Division race. All they needed was a pair of wins over the Lakers and Warriors to beat out San Antonio for the top seed in the division.After Saturday's 107-93 win over L.A., the Jazz are halfway there.
Now Sunday afternoon's game with Golden State (4 p.m. MST) could be a preview of the first round of the playoffs, if the Jazz win or if San Antonio loses at home to Dallas. Since the latter isn't too likely, (especially after the loss to Denver) the Jazz need a victory.
"We've got to win it first," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan, who's never satisfied to rest on present accomplishments. "It'll be a tough game (Sunday) because we played with a lot of emotion today."
Although the Jazz were plenty motivated by Saturday's game, seeing that it was on national television and it was the Lakers, they were extra pumped up after the good news Friday night.
Karl Malone went to the Holyfield-Foreman fight at the Salt Palace and he had good news waiting when he got home.
"My wife told me `Denver won! Denver won!' and she doesn't even follow basketball," he said. "I was shocked and excited."
Many of the players and coaches were over at Scott Layden's house watching the Denver-San Antonio game on satellite. Mike Brown found out from a friend who called from Washington D.C.
Some of the players claimed there was no extra motivation to win. "We wanted to go out and try to win all our games anyway," said Blue Edwards.
But when asked if Denver's win helped motivate the team, Thurl Bailey said, "You're darn right it did. Without even a word being said when we got here today, the feeling was that we were now in control of our own destiny."
The playoffs begin either Thursday or Friday and continue Saturday or Sunday. The Jazz would much rather be at the Salt Palace later this week than in Phoenix (where they'll be if Phoenix wins Sunday and the Jazz lose).
If the Jazz do meet the Warriors, it will be a rematch of the the 1988-89 playoffs, when the Jazz were division champs, seeded second and lost in three straight. The Warriors, led by the Big Three of Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond, have had on a mild run of success, winning four in a row and six of their last 10.
"Tomorrow's a championship game," said Edwards. "If we lose tomorrow, this (win) won't mean anything."
Neither will Denver's favor from Friday.