Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan is looking tired these days, but there is no real rest in his near future. His best possible scenario is to win Thursday night's game against the Phoenix Suns and move on to the next round of the NBA Playoffs. His worst is to lose Thursday in the Salt Palace and be forced to return to Phoenix for a fifth game on Saturday.
The Jazz, who lead the best-of-five series 2-1, tip off at 8:30 p.m. in Game 4 against Phoenix. The game is scheduled to be aired live on KSTU Channel 13.While the Jazz can wrap things up with a win either Thursday or Saturday, nobody's talking of waiting until Saturday. "There's only one game," said Sloan after Wednesday's brief practice at Westminster College. "There was only one game yesterday, too. If I prepared for two days from now I might not be around by then."
As soon as they had dispatched the Suns on Tuesday night, the Jazz were calling it a one-game series. Although they managed one win in two games in Phoenix last week, their history isn't good in the Valley of the Sun.
"I'm not going to lie," said Karl Malone. "I don't want to go back down there. As tough as Phoenix is, I don't want to go back. They're already tough enough up here."
Physical as the going has been for the Jazz in the playoffs, it has probably been worse on the Suns, who came into the series with a variety of nagging injuries. Since then, Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons has put out a call for people willing to go inside and battle with Jazz players Mike Brown, Mark Eaton and Karl Malone.
"For us, we are in a position where there is no tomorrow," said Fitzsimmons. "We really have to come out and meet the challenge Thursday and I really think we are going to do that."
But as the Mailman said, the Jazz are planning on wrapping things up in Salt Lake. A return trip to Phoenix for a fifth game could be disastrous for them.
"No, we're not looking at it as two chances," said Brown. "We're thinking about finishing it right here. We don't want to go back (to Phoenix) at all. I'd rather go play in Portland or Seattle."
If Brown continues to play as he did in Game 3, the chances of advancing appear good for the Jazz. He came off the bench to score 15 points and collect 11 rebounds against the Suns. The previous game he contributed six rebounds and five points. And in the opener he totaled nine points and 10 rebounds.
Forward Blue Edwards has been averaging 13 points a game, his most notable game being a 22-point, 10-rebound effort in Game 3.
"The thing about it is," said the Mailman of the bench effort, "we need them. This time of year, we definitely need 'em."
Bruised as they are, the Jazz have no major injuries. Mark Eaton has sore ribs, Jeff Malone a sore back and Andy Toolson a bad ankle. Malone has his usual assortment of bumps and welts.
"I'm sure Thusday's game will be very physical," said Sloan. "It's very important. They'll (the Suns) come at us with everything they've got."
Will the next game be more intense, the contact more violent? "Yes, because Phoenix is a good team," said Brown. "And they are not going to just lie down and die."
Meanwhile, the Jazz say they hope to minimize the foul trouble Eaton has experienced lately. He fouled out of Game 2 and played only 23 minutes in Game 3 due to foul problems, finishing with five points.