The Jazz had wrapped up their first-round playoff series over Phoenix only minutes earlier, when they began looking ahead to the next step. Portland, or Seattle?
There seemed to be little doubt who the Jazz would rather play. "C'mon Seattle!" said Jazz forward Tony Brown as he walked from the locker room.If the Jazz are obviously rooting for the Sonics to upset Portland, it should come as no surprise. Utah lost three of four to the Blazers this year and won three of four over the Sonics. Portland is the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, Seattle No. 8. Also, the Jazz get the home-court advantage if they play the Sonics.
"We wish Seattle would win," said Karl Malone. "But we're gonna savor this (win over Phoenix) right now."
Said forward Blue Edwards, "We don't care who we play." But reminded by a teammate that playing Seattle would mean a home-court advantage, Edwards added, "It would be good to play Seattle because we'd have the home-court advantage. But we can't control that."
That the Jazz would be playing either team appeared unlikely when the playoffs began. Phoenix split with the Jazz during the regular season, but won by far wider margins. The Suns won one more regular season game and had the home-court advantage on the Jazz.
"A lot of people predicted Phoenix would win the series," said Jazz guard Jeff Malone. "But they only won one more game than us and we split during the season, so I don't know how they could be (considered) so dominant."
Said Karl Malone, "For just one time I think people should give us credit. We came and we played our rears off."
Certainly the Jazz produced a more impressive playoff performance against the Suns than last year. In last year's playoffs the Jazz shot only 46 percent from the field, this year 51 percent. At the free-throw line they made 79 percent of their shots, compared to 72 percent a year ago. And in rebounding, the Jazz averaged five boards per game more than the Suns, compared to three fewer last year.
This year the Jazz held the Suns to just under 96 points a game - seven points fewer than they averaged in the 1990 playoffs against the Jazz. Meanwhile, the Jazz upped their scoring average from 102 to 107 points per game this year.
Despite a sub-par performance by the Suns, Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan was all praise for both sides. "They pulled everything they had out to beat us," said Sloan. "I'm excited for the guys and I'm happy for the organization."
While the Jazz won the overall statistical battle this year, there was one particularly important factor: Mike Brown. The Jazz's backup center averaged 10.2 points and 8.8 rebounds a game. In the four-game series he was second on the Jazz in rebounds and sixth in scoring.
"Mike Brown deserves to be the MVP of this series because he did a hell of a job for us," said the Mailman.
Last year, Brown averaged just 3.6 points and two rebounds.
Another key was the play of Jeff Malone, who averaged 19.2 points a game. A year ago, Bobby Hansen and Eric Leckner - who went to Sacramento in the deal that brought Malone to the Jazz - averaged 13.6 points between them over their five-game series (Leckner didn't play in two games).
Phoenix was significantly down in most areas compared to last year's playoffs. The Suns' scoring dropped from 103.8 to 95.7, their free-throw percentage from .835 to .728, their rebounding from 43.4 to 39 per game and their field-goal percentage from .458 to .418.
The most glaring deficiency was the absence of All-Star guard Kevin Johnson. Johnson averaged 19 points a year ago. This year, bothered by a injuries, he averaged only 12.7 points. Teammate Tom Chambers dropped off from a 20-point scoring clip to only 17 a game.
In one area the Suns bettered the Jazz, their bench outscoring the Jazz's bench, 127-94.
The Jazz took a day off on Friday and were scheduled to resume practice today at Westminster College.