"I said when the Jazz made the deal that Jeff Malone was an impact player," said Fitzsimmons. "He's a money player, and he always has been."

The Phoenix coach repeated what others around the league have lamented: Malone adds a new, dangerous dimension to the Jazz attack.

"He takes the pressure off Karl Malone, and he takes the pressure off (John)Stockton," continued Fitzsimmons.

While the new Malone makes the Jazz more dangerous, guardmate Stockton points out that the Jazz machine isn't perfect yet because Malone has only been with the team a year.

"With his addition, we did make some adjustments," said Stockton. "But we're still making adjustments."

Whether they'll have to make more major adjustments next year depends whether the Jazz manage to sign him to a new contract this summer when he becomes a restricted free agent.

That autograph you've been waiting for from Karl Malone can be obtained sometime this summer. The Mailman - an avowed animal lover - says he is working with Hogle Zoo on a fund-raiser to improve the animal habitats at the zoo.

Though Malone normally doesn't charge for autographs, he said he plans to hold an autograph session and will charge a fee. All proceeds will then go to the zoo.

"Things I like to do best involve charity work," said Malone. "I normally have my fee for appearances. But something like this I want to do free. If we're going to have a zoo, we ought to make it good. Besides, I love animals."

If Jazz fans think Coach Jerry Sloan's offense is predictable, they're not alone. Phoenix forward Tom Chambers agrees.

"They're very predictable," Chambers said prior to Thursday's Jazz win. "And in the playoffs, you're under the microscope."

On the other hand, Chambers thinks the Suns are dangerous because they're unpredictable. "I think it's tough for other teams to adjust to us because we never do the same thing twice. I think that's why we've been a successful playoff team. We're hard to scout."

Apparently not that hard to scout. The Jazz won the first game by 39 points.

Until marrying last December, the Mailman was one of the NBA's most eligible bachelors. He reportedly had phone numbers, love letters and photographs placed on his windshield.

But the Mailman says things aren't really all that exciting. He claims he gets 1,000 to 1,500 letters a week, but not many of them are from swooning women.

"Most of them are congratulations and stuff from young kids," he said. "And a lot are from a lot of older people that like me."

The Jazz are in elite company. Only six NBA teams have made the playoffs each of the past seven years, since the field was expanded to 16 teams.

Along with the Jazz are Boston, Detroit, the Lakers, Milwaukee and Portland.

Aside from the four expansion teams, the only franchise not to make the playoffs at least once is the L.A. Clippers.

Aside from Stockton's NBA-record assist mark, established this season, numerous other records were set this year. Among them were consecutive games played without fouling out (Moses Malone, 1,047), most assists in a game (Scott Skiles, 30), most total points in a game (Denver vs. Golden State, 320), most overtime games in a season (Philadelphia, 14).

How long will it be before the Suns lose by 39 points again? Probably a long time.

Thursday's defeat was their largest playoff loss ever. But it wasn't the biggest defeat in their history. The Suns lost by 44 points to Seattle in 1988, during a regular-season game.

"That happens," said Fitzsimmons after losing to the Jazz. "We didn't shoot well, and we didn't play particularly well."

Asked how long he would need to wait to see another such score, Fitzsimmons replied, "I hope it never happens again."

As for teams being able to play with the Suns, Fitzsimmons says things have changed in recent years.

Somebody's gaining on them.

"The big difference now," he said, "is that people have caught up with us. We used to blow people out before they knew who we were."

The Suns' coach didn't say he was upset with their record. After all, he pointed out, they won 54 games last year and 55 this year.

"But we haven't been as consistent as we could be."

Odds and ends: Jazz center Mark Eaton has torn cartilage in his ribs, but not much can be done about it except wait for them to heal . . . Stockton's new single-season NBA mark for assists is 1,164 . . . The Mailman says the problem with signing autographs is that whenever someone is left out, he ends up looking like a jerk. "You can sign 5,000 autographs, but when you miss one, that one you'll hear from," says Malone . . . Michael Jordan beat out Malone to win his fifth straight scoring championship. The only player ever to win more was Wilt Chamberlain, who won seven in a row.

This column includes materials gathered from outside news sources.