The Jazz's first-round series with the Phoenix Suns was, as much as anything, a study in the art of physical intimidation. Don't look now, but there's more to come.
The Jazz and Trail Blazers open their best-of-seven series in the Western Conference semifinals, tonight at 8:30. The game will be aired live on TNT and KSTU-Channel 13.It isn't likely to be a game for the faint of heart. "This will be more physical than the last series," said Jazz forward Thurl Bailey.
Certainly the Jazz won't get much of a breather in the body-contact department. They are exchanging Mark West for Kevin Duckworth, Jeff Hornacek for Clyde Drexler and Tom Chambers for Buck Williams.
Despite having probably more depth and talent, the Blazers appear to be taking the Jazz seriously. "They took care of a good Phoenix team in four games," said Portland Coach Rick Adelman. "They've always played us tough. It's going to be a great series."
Monday the Jazz had their final full workout at Westminster College before boarding a plane for Portland in the evening. During practice a group of Salt Lake Olympic bid officials and foreign journalists appeared. Predictably, the journalists wanted to talk to the famous Mailman - who entertained British and Italian writers by recounting his trek from Summerfield, La. ("That's 250 people, not 250,000," he told them) to the bright lights of the NBA.
But Karl Malone also addressed the upcoming job against the Blazers. "To win this series we've got to win in Portland," he said. "Our main objective is to go up there and get one of them this week."
The teams meet again on Thursday in Portland before returning for Saturday (1:30 p.m.) and Sunday (6 p.m.) games in Salt Lake.
As was the case in the last series, the Jazz come in as underdogs. Portland had the best regular-season record in the NBA and beat Utah three of four times. Not to worry, says the Mailman. "We've been underdogs all year," he said. "We don't mind. We know what we have to do."
Among the things the Jazz would like to do is control the tempo. Holding down the Blazers' fast break would go a long way toward determining if the Jazz can win the series.
A strong bench effort, too, will be vital. Though reserve Mike Brown had an outstanding series against the Suns, Bailey didn't. He went 10-for-26 from the field in the three games but was only 2-12 in the final two.
"I've played good games before in my life," said Bailey. "That isn't a big issue. We won the last series without me playing that well. I'll just have to get prepared and hopefully I'll have much better games."
Although the Blazers have been great all year, they weren't exactly bulletproof last week. Seattle, the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, took the Blazers to five games before the matter was decided.
"We should have closed it in Game 3 and started to think about Utah," said the Blazers' Drexler.
Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan isn't entertaining any talk about his team's status, whether it be favorite or underdog. "It doesn't make any difference what our role is," said Sloan. "You just get yourself ready to play and work hard to beat this team."
Sloan added that he felt the Jazz are mentally ready to continue where they left off last week. "If you can't get in the right frame of mind for this, maybe we made some mistakes with some people," said Sloan. "But I think they're ready."
Besides, added Malone, being considered the underdog isn't all that bad. "Most of the pressure is on Portland," he said. "They're the ones who are supposed to win it all this year."
As for the Blazers, they know what to expect from the Jazz: John Stockton-to-Malone inside. "I don't think we're going to run into too many secrets from Utah," said Adelman. "We know what they are going to try to do."